Feeding The Pigeons

This is a fictional short story, in 1520 words

Eric knew the best time to get to the small supermarket. He knew exactly when they would reduce all the soon-to-be out of date loaves of bread, usually cutting the price to a quarter of what it had been a few minutes earlier. The young man knew Eric by sight, and smiled as he stuck the reduced labels onto the plastic packaging. He guessed the elderly man would most likely buy them all, as he did most days. And he was right, as Eric walked forward and piled them all into his basket, having to carry the four that didn’t fit. It didn’t matter to him if they were white sliced, wholemeal, brown, or granary. And it certainly wouldn’t matter to the birds he would feed them to, he knew that.

Back at his tower block, Eric was sure the broken lift would not have been fixed. He hardly glanced at the Out Of Order sign as he began the long walk to the sixth floor with his bags of shopping. But almost half a lifetime spent in the services, and later in other jobs that kept him fit stood him in good stead. He wasn’t even out of breath as he turned the key in the front door lock. Hanging up his coat, he took the bags through to the kitchen, and began his routine. A special knife, two wooden chopping boards, and some large plastic bags. Once it was all laid out on the work surface, he began unwrapping the loaves, and cutting each slice of bread into tiny pieces. Then the pieces were deposited in one of the plastic bags, to keep them fresh until tomorrow morning.

It took a very long time to do this carefully, but it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do.

When he was almost done, he saved the last two slices, and made himself a cheese sandwich with them. Despite supposedly being out of date, the bread tasted fine to him. Washing it down with a cup of tea, he went to sit in the small armchair by the kitchen table, and switched on the radio. There would be a play on later, and once he had listened to that, he would get ready for bed. No need to use the living room anymore. It had been years since he had bothered with the TV, and there was nothing to see from the balcony, except the car park.

Almost thirty years in the navy had left Eric with no time to meet a wife, or start a family. During his last tour on ship, he had been informed that his mother had died, and offered leave to go home and attend the funeral. But he wanted to see out the tour with his pals, so left it all to his older sister to sort out. Once the navy was finished with him, they found him a job as a security guard. Lots of walking around empty buildings, and always working alone. He had got used to it in time, and the radio had become his best friend. He knew the times of all the best shows, including the plays, and discussion programmes.

But then retirement had followed his sixty-fifth birthday, and he wondered how he would fill his days.

One morning, he went for a walk in the local park, stopping to rest on a bench to eat a sandwich he had brought from home. Almost immediately, he was surrounded by pigeons. They were bold, happily walking right up to his shoes, to eat the tiny crumbs falling from his lunch. He started to peel off slivers of the crust, and drop them on the ground, delighted to see dozens more of the birds appearing, tussling over the bread, and cooing excitedly. He resolved to bring more bread the next day, so that they would all get at least one piece.

What started with a few slices soon became a whole loaf. Then two loaves, until he was carrying two in each hand, bought from the small supermarket just for that purpose. It became something Eric did, and stuck to in all weathers, seven days a week. He began to recognise some of the birds, and named them in his head. There was Twisty, whose deformed right leg faced the wrong way. Hoppy, a bird born with one leg significantly shorter, and Long John Silver, a bird with one eye. After the first week of this, Eric could see the huge number of birds waiting by the bench for his usual time of arrival. As soon as he sat down, they fluttered around him. Many were keen enough to take the bread from his hand, but he still never had enough to go round.

It wasn’t long before Eric turned his pigeon feeding into an art form. The careful cutting of the slices into tiny squares, the plastic bags to keep it fresh, and special large bags to transport the bounty to the waiting birds. Then he discovered the cheap reduced price loaves, something that saved him a lot of money. After the first year of his retirement, feeding the pigeons had become what Eric did. It gave him purpose, a reason to get ready to go out, and a regular routine that made him feel relaxed in his mind. He couldn’t imagine his life without the park, the bench, and the pigeons.

That morning was crisp and clear, and Eric wrapped up well against the cold. Despite the bright sky, it was very chilly. Carrying his two special bags, he didn’t even bother to try the always broken lift, and just walked down to the street. He knew it would take exactly fourteen minutes to get to the park, and he also knew that the pigeons would be waiting. No sooner had he sat down and reached into the first bag, then close to one hundred birds were around him. Most stayed on the ground, bobbing up and down as they waited expectantly. Others tried to gain an advantage by flying onto the bench, and the really brave ones actually settled on his legs and shoulders. Eric smiled as he flung handfuls of the neat squares around, making sure that the birds at the back got their chance too. He spotted Hoppy, amazed how long his old friend had managed to survive.

The young woman walking toward him looked stern. In many ways, she looked more like a man, with close-cropped hair, shiny boots, and a green uniform. But he could tell by her face and complexion that she was female, and he smiled as she approached. Her tone was officious, deliberately unfriendly. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to be feeding these pigeons, Sir?” She sneered out the ‘Sir’, as if reluctant to add the respectful term. The birds had scattered as she approached, but were soon back, rather than miss out on the bread. Eric looked up at her, reading the Council logo on the front of her polo shirt. “No, I didn’t. I have been feeding them every day for over a year. That’s what I do”. The woman shook her head, and removed a small notebook from a pouch at her waist. “Well not anymore you don’t. These things are dirty, and they are a pollution hazard too, with all their droppings. Besides, any bread they don’t eat attracts rats. The Council has banned bird-feeding, there’s a sign by the main gate. The fine is up to two hundred pounds you know”.

Eric flung another handful as he stared up at her. “I don’t come in the main gate, I use the side gate by the canal towpath. No signs there, not that I have seen”. She opened the notebook. “Please stop feeding them now. And I mean now. I suggest you put the rest of that bread in the bin over there, and go about your business. I will be taking your name and address, and issuing with a warning. If I see you here again, it will be a fine. Get it? Now, what’s your name and address?” It never even occurred to Eric to give her false details, and he supplied his real name and address. He watched as she picked up both bags and walked to the bin, emptying the contents deep inside. The confused birds gathered around the bin, seeing the woman as a potential new feeder.

She walked back to the bench and handed him the empty bags.”I did it for you, save you the trouble. Now you are welcome to use all the facilities of the park, but no more bird-feeding”. With that, she walked off, a smug grin on her face. Eric sat for a while, then stood up and walked to the bin. He stuffed the two bags inside, on top of the bread. He would have no further use for them now. As he walked back along the towpath, he wondered what he would do tomorrow, and who might buy the reduced loaves that evening.

And he hoped they had fixed the lift by now.

Photo Prompt Story: By The Tiled Wall

This is a fictional short story, in 1280 words.
It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd. https://suejudd.com/

Felipe was setting up the tables outside the cafe, as he had done every morning for the last six years. He could see that he was there again, the old man huddled on the steps beneath the tiled wall. The first time, Felipe had approached him, asked if he was unwell, offered him a coffee, or a glass of water. But the sad eyes looked up, and a heavily-veined hand had just waved him away without a word of reply.

Asking around some of the customers, he learned that he had sat there every day, for as long as everyone could remember. But even in a community rife with gossip and idle chatter, nobody knew anything about him. Or if they did, they were not saying. When tourists arrived, bursting like bubbles from the doors of coaches, they flocked to take photos of the famous tiles. But every one of those photos would also include the crestfallen old man, as he always declined to move away.

Occasionally they actually pulled at his hands, trying to get him to move. Some even offered him small bribes, so he wouldn’t be in their souvenir photo. But he never moved, and waved away their objections as he returned to his characteristic slump beneath the tiles. Felipe had never seen him eat or drink. He sat in the spot from first light until dark, not even leaving to use a toilet, apparently. It didn’t seem possible that this elderly man could survive all day without so much as a drop of water, especially in the summer months. But he did, that was undeniable.

Over the years, Felipe found his curiosity getting the better of him. How could he sit there like that, in all weathers? How did it not make him ill? Surely it must be boring in the extreme too? But most of all, why? Why would someone spend their daily life sitting aimlessly in one spot, with no good reason for doing so? That morning, once the tables were arranged, and the umbrellas raised, the young waiter resolved to try again, to find out all he could about the old man, and his reason for sitting there.

But the day was unusually busy. Felipe was run off his feet, with Gaspar the owner in a bad mood, and customers complaining about the delays in getting their food. Tips were scarce, and when Felipe finally got a break, he sat outside the back door, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the kick of caffeine from a very strong coffee. But it wasn’t long before Gaspar was harassing him to get back to his work, and clear away the outside tables at the front on the square.

As he piled cups and glasses onto a large tray, Felipe glanced across to the tiled wall. The old man was gone. For the first time in all those years, his spot on the stairs was empty during daylight hours. He checked his watch, not even three in the afternoon. Far too early for him to have left already. He spotted the road-sweeper, standing out in his bright orange overalls. Walking across to him , he spoke politely. “Excuse me sir, did you see the old man leave? You know the one, he sits on the steps under the tiles?” The sweeper raised his eyebrows, ash falling from the hand-rolled cigarette between his lips as he replied. “Oh him, yeah. An ambulance took him away about fifteen minutes ago. He wasn’t moving much, and they had him on a stretcher.” Felipe was shocked at the news. “Do you happen to know where they took him, sir?” With a shrug, the sweeper replied. “They didn’t say, but I suppose it would be the nearest hospital. That would be the São José Hospital, do you know it? Filipe nodded, adding “Thank you sir”, as he turned back to the cafe.

Gaspar was less than pleased when his waiter told him he was taking some time owed to him, and leaving early. Filipe got a tram to a stop close to the hospital, and walked the short distance to the Emergency Department. At the reception desk, it suddenly occurred to him that he knew no details about the old man, and as the receptionist looked up, he wondered what to say. “I have come to ask about one of my friends, a regular customer. I don’t know his name, but he is old, with lots of white hair. He was dressed all in black, but there was a grey and red pattern on the top he was wearing. An ambulance took him away from the square, close to the famous tiled wall”. The lady eyed him suspiciously for a moment, not taken in by his white lie. “Take a seat young man, and I will get a nurse to speak to you.” Felipe nodded, and walked over to stand in the corner. He wanted her to be able to see him, so she didn’t forget.

Almost thirty minutes later, a nurse appeared. She looked impatient as she scanned around the waiting room. A young woman with a lot to do, who didn’t need such interruptions. The receptionist nodded at him, and she walked over. Her tone was not unfriendly, just professional. “You were asking about Mister Cubas? Follow me, and I will take you to him”. She seemed unconcerned that Felipe wasn’t a relative, and he followed as she walked very quickly along a corridor to a small room with an open door. She pointed into the room, where the old man was lying still, under a sheet. “I must ask you to be quiet, and not agitate him. He has had a massive stroke, and we fear he may not last the night”. Felipe nodded. “Thank you miss, but tell me, how did you know his name?” As she hurried off to her next task, she spoke without turning. “From the letter in his pocket”.

It seemed to him that the nurse had been right. The old man looked gravely ill. His face was grey in colour, and the oxygen hissing through the mask seemed to be doing little to help him. On a small unit next to the bed was a crumpled letter. The envelope had a just a name on it, written in tiny neat handwriting. There was no address or stamp, suggesting it had been hand delivered. ‘Raul Cubas’. So that was his name. Felipe looked across at the man again. His eyes were shut tight, his breathing sounding little more than a faint rasp. Feeling guilty, he opened the envelope and removed the single sheet of paper. As he read, he felt he was intruding, but the need to know overwhelmed his manners.

‘My darling Raul. It is as we feared. I am with child, and cannot possibly tell my parents.
We must leave the city, as you suggested, and start a new life far away.
I will come to you tomorrow morning, and meet you by the tiled wall, where we first kissed.
Then we will turn our backs on this district, and be together always.
If I am late, I beg you to wait for me, my dearest, as you know I would always wait for you.
My love forever, your Serafina’.

At the top of the letter was the date. The 12th of October, 1966.

Felipe returned the letter to its envelope, and left the room quietly, a lump building in his throat. Now he knew what the old man had been doing for the last fifty-three years.

He had been waiting for Serafina.

Tom’s Bench

This is a fictional short story, in just 608 words.

It was a very conventional wooden bench. Varnished slats, with wrought-iron frames at each end to support it. Arm-rests capped off each end, and the metal feet were set into a concrete base, so that it wouldn’t be stolen. The curve of the back was enough to allow someone to rest, but still be able to admire the view. It would seat four adults comfortably, if they didn’t mind sitting quite close together.

On the back at the top, fixed to the wood by four tiny screws, a small brass plaque carried an engraved message, for anyone who could be bothered to read it.
‘Dedicated to Thomas Arthur Wilkinson, 1931-2010. He loved this spot.’
The brass was already pitted, worn down by salty air, and blowing sand. There was nobody left to polish it anymore. It had been paid for and placed there by his wife, Edna. But she was gone now.

One of the wrought iron frames had been disfigured by garish purple paint. A squiggle with no meaning, other than to the young person who had sprayed it on there. Scuff marks on the front slats showed where some had raised their legs and rested their feet on the woodwork, wearing away varnish that would never be re-applied. The seagulls that walked around looking for food scraps had anointed parts of the bench with their droppings as they flew away, quarreling and squawking.

Determined plants had eventually forced their way up through the concrete base. Dandelions and scrub grass, finding the smallest cracks as they broke through into the sunlight. A milk-shake carton had survived since last season, rolling from one side to the other underneath, further progress halted by the stout iron sides. Cigarette butts congregated in the corners of the base too, next to chewing-gum wrappers and squashed plastic straws.

The dark wood-stain has fared badly against the elements. The rich brown now faded, little more than a light tan now.

But the view is unchanged. The view that Tom loved as a boy, and continued to cherish as an adult. The small pier to the right, with the pavilion of entertainments at the far end. Glance to the left, and there is the Beach Cafe; still the same, despite new management. Open even during winter, offering hot drinks and warm food to the hardiest walkers along the promenade. Look straight ahead down the sloping beach, and in come the endless, gently rolling waves. They rush onto the stones as if needing to be somewhere in a hurry, then slowly recede, when their strength expires. The sound of sea on stones, the lullaby that soothed Tom for decades.

As wonderful vistas go, it may not have counted for much. But for Tom, it was paradise.

A family approach the bench. Young mum, squeezed into leggings that seem like a second skin. Heels on shoes inappropriate for long walks at the seaside. She pushes a folding buggy containing a screaming baby, with an older boy hanging onto the handles, demanding ice cream from the Beach Cafe he has just spotted. Her partner is tall, with arms and neck heavily tattooed, ignoring the demands of his children as he stares into his mobile phone.

She sits down, removing the shoes, and rubbing her blistered feet. The baby has stopped screaming, but the toddler’s demand for the ice cream is relentless. The man perches on the edge, rolling a cigarette from the makings balanced on the legs of his jeans. Once he has finished, they give in to the tantrum, and walk in the direction of the beach cafe.

Neither of them even noticed the plaque.

Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

This is a fictional short story, in 1360 words. It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Sue suggested it might be something I could write about.

George was excited. He had bought a new suit for the interview, and checked out his travel plans. One train to the necessary station, around forty minutes. Say fifteen minutes to walk to the industrial estate, and that was fifty-five minutes. He would allow ninety-five minutes from home, just to make sure. Caroline was very excited. The prospect of a new job for her husband was a joy. After George had been made redundant late last year, things were manageable, but tough. She was so supportive, and he really appreciated her bringing in the money from her job at the local Council. She had been the driving force. Finding jobs online, helping him update his CV, and constantly boosting him up. Always so positive.

They just about managed the mortgage and bills, but holiday plans had been put on hold, and so had the decision to start a family. Caroline wanted nothing more than to have a baby, and George was totally on board with that too. But the unexpected news had put a hold on so many things in their life. He had been upset when they told his mother-in-law. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and George had felt personally responsible for the delay. Working in such a niche market was always going to be an issue. But Caroline had found the perfect job, even though it would mean a commute he wasn’t used to. She had helped with the updated CV, and even checked over his online application, suggesting various bullet points he should include.

The end result was success. His first interview since he lost his last job. They were both so happy, Caroline bought in a takeaway curry, to celebrate.

It seemed that the best idea was to book the train ticket online. They accepted lots of payment options, and they could send it to your email, or phone. George was impressed. He might even print out the ticket, just in case. Wouldn’t hurt to take a paper copy along. Just as well though, considering the local station no longer had any staff. The company had decided that there were not enough passengers to justify any station staff, let alone a ticket office. Besides, the tickets were either checked on the train, or at the destination. The prospect of random checks put off all but the most determined fare-dodgers. George was always going to buy a ticket. He would never even think to avoid paying the fare.

Caroline helped him to chose the suit. Smart, modern, but not excessively flash. Just the right look, for that sort of company. She put it on her credit card. A month before they had to pay, and he would have his first salary by then. They were sure of that. The night before, they went through his references, as well as all of his qualification certificates, and packed them in a very sensible business case. It would look like a shoulder bag, but nothing too casual. He slipped in his notebook computer, fully charged, just in case he needed to check anything on the way.

The weather forecast was for a sunny and bright day. Not cold, not too warm. So no coat would be required, and his transition lenses in the spectacles would cope. No need to consider separate sunglasses. One less thing to worry about. That night, he cuddled Caroline close to him in bed. George had to confess that he was quite excited about taking a train. For the last twelve years, he had driven to work. But losing the company car had made that impossible. They could only run one car on what they had to spend, and Caroline needed that for her job, as well as getting the shopping, and going to see her mum. He wouldn’t mind at all. He would be a commuter. A happy commuter too.

He didn’t get much sleep. Long before the alarm was due to go off, he was already in the shower, his clothes laid out in the spare room, so as not to disturb his wife too early. George shaved carefully, then did his hair just so. The crisp new shirt felt stiff as he dressed, but in a good way. By the time Caroline had stirred, he was dressed and ready, with two coffees already drunk. He was far too nervous to eat, so would save his appetite for the celebration meal later. Caroline was still in her dressing gown, when she kissed him goodbye. As he walked along the path smiling back at her, she called out. “Love you, honey. Text me with the good news”.

The station was a lot quieter than he had expected. There were only five other people on the platform, and George sat down on a metal bench. He leaned forward, more perching than sitting, unwilling to crease that immaculate new suit more than necessary. After five minutes, he took out his phone, and sent Caroline a text message. ‘Here in plenty of time. Far too early for my train. Better early than late! Love you, my darling xx’.

The next train came in, and he let it go without getting on it. No point being ridiculously early. He would just end up wandering around a soulless industrial estate, with nothing to do. He checked the time on his phone, and decided to wait for the next one. That would still leave him with more than enough time. If anything, he would still be too early. It seemed to be a long time coming. The platform opposite was filling up with people. He had no idea where they were going, but after a while, he started to get worried about his own train. Twenty-five minutes later, and he was getting genuinely concerned. Trains came and went on the other side, but there was nothing arriving where George sat, and as he got nearer to the time of his interview, he started to panic. There was nobody around to ask, and now there wasn’t even anyone across the tracks, waiting on the opposite platform. He decided to ring the company, and explain.

The girl was rather formal, but ready to accept his excuse that there was a problem with the trains. “I haven’t heard about any rail difficulties this morning, Mr Collier, but if you can get here by eleven-thirty, someone will see you. Later than that, and you will be too late, I’m afraid”. George thanked her profusely, and assured her he must surely be there by then. But that was less than an hour later, and allowing for the journey, even if he got a taxi at the other end, it was cutting it fine. Tired of pacing, he sat down on the bench again. Ten minutes went by, and he started to feel hot and uncomfortable in his new suit. He was relieved when two men walked onto the platform, one carrying a large paper cup of coffee. He stood up, and approached the man holding the cup. “Excuse me, do you have any idea when the next train to Swindon is due? I have been waiting ages since the last one”. He tried to subdue the panic in his voice.

The man looked surprised. “Swindon?” You are on the westbound platform, the Down Line. You need to go over there and get an eastbound train, on the Up Line”. George looked confused. Had he really been standing on the wrong side all this time? The coffee man seemed to know his stuff, so George pressed him. “I don’t suppose you know when the next Swindon train is due in over that side, do you? The man checked his watch. “Not for another twenty minutes. That will get you there just before twelve”. George nodded his thanks. He was starting to feel sick. Sitting back down on the bench, he took out his phone again, selecting Text Message from the menu.

But he had no idea what to say to Caroline in that text.

Photo Prompt Story: The Shady Corner

This is a short story, in 1340 words. It was prompted by this photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.

Emiliano stopped to take off his straw hat, and wiped his head with a large handkerchief. The bags he was carrying were not so heavy, but it was a hot afternoon, and he wasn’t getting any younger. It was another twenty minutes before he got home, and Conchita was sitting outside on a chair, shaking her head as she watched him walk up the hill. He dropped the bags by the entrance, and she turned to him with a resigned look on her face. “Look at the state of you, hot and bothered. I bet you walked the long way again, didn’t you? Stupid man, with your silly superstitions”.

Pointing to the corner, she indicated the small shop with the coloured umbrellas outside, just a few yards away. “You should go that way, past Pablo’s shop. But no, you always have to go the long way. People laugh at you, you know. It’s embarrassing for me. They mutter as I walk past, or speak in the queue behind me at the market. I bet they are saying that I am the wife of stupid Emiliano, the grown man scared of a small shady street”. He ignored her nagging. He was used to it, after fifty years of marriage. Picking up the bags, he trudged up the stairs to their apartment on the second floor. He would have himself a cold beer, standing on the balcony. Get some breeze, if there was any.

Sipping the beer on his tiny balcony, Emiliano turned away from the corner closest to his home, and stared down the hill in the direction he had just walked. Let them laugh, he didn’t care. He knew better.

More than fifty years earlier, the town looked much the same as it did now. Pablo’s father had run the small shop back then, before an electronic cash register replaced the old wooden box Mr Rodriguez kept under the counter, and all the fruit and vegetables stacked outside were now kept in cardboard boxes. It was the summer before he and Manolo were due to report for military service. A hot summer, one that seemed to drive Manolo crazier than usual.

His best friend appeared to be trying to do everything, before the two years they would be away in the army. He had tried to persuade Emiliano to accompany him to the town of Santa Anna, so they could pay a prostitute, and lose their virginity. But he had no money for such things, and he was too scared that his mother might find out. Instead, Manolo went to see Dona Martina, waiting for her as she returned from her outhouse. She wasn’t called ‘the friendly widow’ for nothing, and she eagerly accommodated the wishes of the excitable young man.

He came to tell Emiliano about his newly-confirmed manhood, boasting as they wandered down the street. “I’m sure I was the best lover that old lady has ever known”. He slapped his friend’s back, before beginning the story all over again. Right from the part where he hissed to her from his hiding place behind her house, and she smiled her welcome.

As they approached the shady corner just beyond Mr Rodriguez’s shop, Manolo suddenly turned, grabbing some fruit from the stand outside. Now old man Rodriguez was a tolerant soul, and knew everyone in their small town. But he didn’t tolerate theft. If Manolo had asked for the fruit, he would have probably have given it to him. But when he saw the loudmouth just take it and carry on walking, he ran out from his shop, shouting angrily. Emiliano stopped still, eager to tell the shopkeeper he had done nothing. But his headstrong friend ran off into the shade laughing, and flinging the fruit away as he ran. Mr Rodriguez gave chase, but he was a fat man, and not used to running. They both disappeared into the darkness around the corner, leaving Emiliano wondering what he should do.

He waited in the hot sun for what seemed like ages, before venturing around the shady corner, into the familiar street. It wasn’t a long street, giving way to the road out of town in just a few hundred yards. It felt unusually cold that day, and even allowing for the shade, the small street should still have been stifling. And it was deserted too. No shoppers, nobody just strolling, every house and apartment shuttered for the coming siesta. Neither of them could be seen. Hard to imagine that the corpulent shopkeeper would have carried on running until the main road in those temperatures, and Manolo would have easily left him behind, long before that.

They were never seen again. The police were alerted, and concluded that Manolo must have done some mischief to the older man, then run away after hiding the body. Despite the frantic appeals of both families, only a rudimentary search was conducted, and the case left unsolved. Mrs Rodriguez had to tell Pablo to finish High School early, so he could run the shop. And when he went into the military, her cousin came down from Garancha to help her. Emiliano searched high and low for his friend. He covered the whole district, right up until the time he had to report for his army service.

After that two years was up, he returned to the town, and was introduced to Conchita by his uncle. It seemed the thing to do, to marry the girl, and he got a decent job at the brick works outside the town, working in the office. So he rented the apartment where they still lived to this day, and they had the church wedding that was expected.

No children came. She blamed him, but back then, nobody went for tests. Instead, Conchita sought the advice of busybodies, old women who sold her foul remedies. None of them worked, so she continued to blame him, and he ignored her, as he had become used to doing. He worked at his job, and she kept the house. But he never once set foot in that shady corner again, or the street beyond. After he retired, they hardly spoke any more, and Conchita seemed to delight in mocking him at every opportunity. So many wasted years, and never a mention of his close friend, or old man Rodriguez.

Emiliano finished his beer, and stood up. Putting on the bright blue baseball cap that his wife hated, and a light jacket, he went downstairs and walked past her without a word. Gathering speed, he turned into the shady corner, and walked into the street without hesitating. It was cool, just as he remembered. And there was nobody around, the houses shuttered and silent. He set a good pace, and was soon approaching the junction with the main road. His heart skipped a beat as he saw Manolo waving to him from the end of the shady thoroughfare. He was smiling, young and fit, carrying a small suitcase in his left hand. He shouted, “Come on, Emiliano, we will miss the bus for the army”.

Looking down, Emiliano recognised his own clothing from decades earlier, and the small suitcase that his mother had packed for him. He walked to meet his friend, and they grasped hands. Manolo turned, hearing a throaty engine sound. “Here comes the coach. We will soon be soldiers, my friend. Let’s promise to try to stick together, yes?” He nodded, and they climbed onto the waiting single-deck bus. He would do his service once again, this time with his best friend. And when he came home, he would tell his uncle that he didn’t want to marry Conchita.

They sent young Rosa to get Conchita from her chair. The girl grabbed her hand, leading her around the shady corner. Halfway down the street, some people were standing around the lifeless body of Emiliano. He was lying on his back, still wearing that silly blue cap.

And he was smiling.

Ho Ho Ho

This is a work of fiction. A short story, in 990 words.

Derek reached for the remote, and switched off the TV. It was starting earlier every year; the advertising for toys, Christmas food, special offers, and must-have gifts. Even the few stations that didn’t carry advertising still had countless previews of Christmas special programmes that were sure to entertain families over the long festive season. He decided to feed Henry instead, and slid the seed hopper out of the budgerigar’s cage. Henry signaled his excitement by banging the mirror with his beak, and cheeped loudly as the food appeared.

Up early as usual, Derek took his daily walk along the local High Street. The huge tree hadn’t been put up yet, but there was a sign advertising the switch on of the lights, in two week’s time. Despite that, the shops were already festooned with decorations, and all of them had the usual Christmas tat placed prominently on display. Some of the staff were even wearing Santa hats, and tired Christmas pop songs played on loops around the stores. He walked around the aisles, selecting what he would eat that night, and picking up things before putting them back down. Anything to make his time outside the house last longer. At the checkout, he was asked what he was doing for Christmas. Always polite, he smiled at the young woman. “Oh, just the usual”.

But it would not be the usual of course, he knew that. Ever since Mum had died, it never seemed the same. No point putting up the decorations, or the small white artificial tree. Nobody to buy a present for, or to watch those not so special TV specials with. And as for cooking a turkey, it hardly seemed worth it for one person. Even when Mum was around, the meat from it had been too much. Cold turkey and chips on Boxing Day, turkey sandwiches for lunch until the 29th, then turkey soup made from the carcass, always on New Year’s Eve. Until she died in 1990, Aunt Alice would join them for the Christmas meal. Derek had to go and pick her up in his car, and she insisted on going home straight after the mince pies had been served. By the time he got back, Mum would be asleep in her recliner chair, and he would roll up his sleeves, and face the mountain of washing up in the kitchen.

Not that he minded that of course. He had never known his Dad, and never met a girl who liked him enough to accept his offer of a date. Life with Mum was easy, and even easier to stay with, as he grew into old age himself. When he got a computer, Mum thought it was a waste of money. Maybe she was right, as he didn’t need it for work, and soon became bored with surfing the net. But then he heard about online dating, using clubs where people like him met. He set up a profile, and used a photo taken on his ancient mobile phone. The phone that had never once received a text message, or been used to make a call. It still had the same twenty-pounds of credit that he had put on it when he bought it. Derek had paid his membership fee, and been pleasantly surprised by how many women of similar age and interests had been on the site. He admired the photos of many of them, and sent contact requests to the six that he liked the best. But nothing happened. None of them ever replied, or even gave a thumbs up to his profile picture. When his annual contract expired, he didn’t bother to renew it. A few weeks later, he cancelled the broadband contract, boxed up the computer, and put it in the loft. As Mum watched him walking up the ladder, she grinned. “Best place for it. Stupid thing”.

Christmas Eve was hectic on the High Street, as usual. People barged into him as they tried to navigate the crowded pavements clutching bulging bags containing food or last-minute gifts. Derek’s bag was empty, by comparison. It contained a DVD of a western film, something to watch tomorrow, instead of all the rubbish that would be on TV. And a shepherd’s pie that could be microwaved, which would do him for dinner. He had also bought a strip of millet to push through the bars of Henry’s cage. The only nod to the festive season that surrounded him at every turn. A new cuttlefish bone had also been picked up in the Pet Shop. But the one already in the cage wasn’t that old, so he had put that back on the shelf.

On the morning of the 25th, Derek rose early, and got ready to go out. He always loved that quiet walk along the High Street, on the only day that all the shops were closed. Wandering along deserted pavements, enjoying the strange freedom of no crowds, he could see that not all the shops were shut up that day. Mr Ali’s newsagent’s was open as usual, and the Turkish Barber had his sign out. Looking through the window, he spotted Mustapha lounging in one of his own barber chairs, reading a foreign newspaper. Maybe he knew he was getting customers later. Or perhaps he had never worked out that nobody ever got their hair cut on Christmas Day. At the end of the shopping street, he turned for home, and nodded to the man opening up the door of the Chinese Takeaway. Could be he also knew something Derek didn’t, that some customers would still want a Chinese meal, even on that day.

Hanging up his coat, he put the pie in the fridge, and opened the packet of millet. Walking to the cage with a smile, he mumbled, “Here you go, Henry. Happy Christmas”.

But the bright blue bird was at the bottom of its cage, legs in the air.

Mister Wilfred: A Story For Children

This is a fictional short story, in 1475 words. It is my first attempt at a story for children. I have never had any children, so I hope it works. 🙂

Daniel and Tommy were best friends. They sat next to each other in school, and played together every day in the holidays. If one climbed a tree, the other would follow, and when Daniel learned to ride a bike, he helped Tommy when he got his. Every day when they rode home from school, they would always stop at the old house, the one with the driveway that was overgrown, and the funny windows sticking out from the roof.

“I think a vampire lives in that house. It looks dark, and the curtains are always closed”. Said Daniel. Tommy shook his head. “I think it’s not a vampire, but some other sort of monster. Maybe a demon”. Daniel thought about it for a while. “Well I say a vampire”. They rode off together, one shouting “Demon”, the other “Vampire”.

On Saturday, the boys filled their water flasks, and packed cereal bars into their pockets. It was going to be a long day, out riding in the woods, and around the lake. They tried to jump their bikes over logs, and fell about laughing when they crashed. Around the lake, they raced each other, building up great speeds along the paved path. Out of breath, Tommy panted. “That was so fast, I reckon we were doing at least one hundred miles an hour”. Daniel nodded, his face red. “Easily”.

It was still too early to go home, so they just cycled around the familiar streets, left, left, and left again. When they stopped to drink from their flasks, Daniel turned to his friend, a wicked glint in his eye. “Let’s go to the old house, and see if we can see the vampire”. Tommy grinned. “It’s a demon, but I don’t think that now is a good time. Maybe next weekend”. Daniel stood over the crossbar, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you’re scared. Not a scaredy-cat double scaredy-cat?” Tommy set his jaw. “I’m not scared, it’s just that there’s not time before we have to go home”.

Daniel sat back on the bike, and began to pedal in circles around his friend. “Scaredy-cat, scaredy cat, I double-treble dare you”. Tommy swallowed hard. A double-treble dare was not something he could overlook. If he refused something as serious as that, it might never be forgotten. He glared at Daniel. “OK then, let’s go”. When they got to the driveway, Tommy rode straight in. He was very scared, but he knew if he stopped on the street outside, his courage would fail him. But when he was close to the dusty front door of the house, he turned to see that Daniel was still at the entrance to the driveway. Pleased with himself, Tommy shouted, “Now who’s the scaredy-cat?” His friend rode slowly to join him. “I was just adjusting the bike chain”. They both knew it was a lie, but let it go.

The house had all of its curtains closed. Two old planters stood either side of the door, both full of weeds. The gravel drive was overgrown too, and thick dirty white paint was peeling off the stonework, hanging down like old bark on a tree. Tommy turned. “What now? What shall we do now?” Daniel smiled. “Well knock of course. Get off your bike, and knock”. Tommy gulped. He didn’t want to do that, but was afraid of getting another double-treble dare. So he jumped off and ran to the door, lifting the heavy black iron knocker, and letting it down hard. The sound echoed through the inside of the house, and sounded like a thunderclap.

Nothing happened, and the boys smiled nervously at each other. No vampire answered, and no demon appeared. Daniel feigned bravery. “Shall we look round the back do you think, Tommy?” Just as Tommy was about to reply, the door opened with a creak of the rusty hinges. Without waiting to see who was there, the boys kicked up their pedals and started to ride away fast. But Tommy crashed into Daniel, and they both fell onto the gravel. Tommy looked up to see an old man standing over them. His shiny head was fringed with untidy white hair, and his chin and neck were combined into one, wobbling like a turkey. Daniel stepped over his bike, intending to run away and leave it there, but the old man smiled, and shook his head. “Have you boys hurt yourselves?” His voice was harsh, like the gravel Tommy was still lying on, but his tone was kind.

“Are you a demon?” Tommy asked. Daniel put his hands on his hips, and shouted. “I think you must be a vampire”. The old man lifted his head back, his neck wobbling even faster as he chuckled. “I am neither of those, boys. I am just Wilfred”. Tommy stood up, realising there was nothing to be afraid of. Closer now to Wilfred, he could see that the man’s eyes were milky and wet, his back bent, and his nose and ears very large. “You have got big ears like a demon” Tommy stated boldly. Wilfred looked down at the grazes on the legs of the boys, which were studded with gravel. “Come on in, and I will let you clean up your legs. I might even have some orange squash for you. No demons or vampires, that’s a promise”.

Daniel walked forward, refusing to show any fear. So Tommy followed him inside. The wide hallway led into a huge room. It had a bed, a table and chairs, and two armchairs, all crowded together in one corner. Pictures hung from the walls, covering every inch, and more were stored in photo frames, placed on every ledge, and any flat surface. Tommy looked over at Daniel and wrinkled his nose. There was a funny smell inside, like nothing he had ever smelled before. Wilfred pointed at the armchairs. “Sit yourselves down boys, I will just be a minute”. They sat down, and looked around. On a small table next to Tommy was a row of medals attached to coloured ribbons, and a faded old photo in a wooden frame. It was of a young man in uniform, probably an army uniform. A larger frame sat on the side table next to Daniel. It contained a wedding photo, also black and white. A smiling young girl, and the same man from the uniform photo.

Wilfred came back into the room, walking slowly and carefully. He was holding a tin bowl, and had a towel draped over his arm. He placed the bowl on the floor between the boys, and had some trouble straightening up. Reaching into the pocket of his crumpled jacket, he produced a dusty-looking bottle, handing it to Tommy. “That’s disinfectant. Wash your legs, then rub some on those grazes. It will sting a bit, mind”. As the boys did his bidding, he sat himself on a hard chair, resting his arm on the table. “So what did you boys want, anyway?” They looked at each other, then Tommy spoke. “We were looking to see if a vampire or demon lived here. It looks like a house where one of those would live”. Daniel pointed at the wedding photo. “Is this you, Mister Wilfred?”

“Yes that’s me, a very long time ago. I went off to the war soon after, and my wife died having our baby. The baby died too. Since then, I have been alone here”. He stared down at his unlaced shoes, lost in his memories for a moment. Then his head came up, and he was smiling. “So, no demons, and not a vampire in sight. Just a tired old man, in a house that’s too much to cope with. How about that squash now?” The boys nodded, and he shuffled off to get their drinks. As they gulped down the cold orange and water, Wilfred told them something about his life. He had won medals, but returned sad and unhappy. He had worked as long as he could, but now spent his days alone. The woman who came into clean and get his shopping was unreliable, and most days he never saw or spoke to anybody.

Tommy and Daniel exchanged a glance, and Tommy nodded.

As they set off on their bikes on the first day of the Easter holidays, Daniel’s Mum called from the front step. “Where are you two off to today?” Tommy turned and smiled. “We are going to see a demon”. The lady smiled, and shook her head. As they rode away, she heard her son shout. “Not a demon, a vampire!

And the boys laughed.

Let me know if you think this works a a story for children. Any criticism will be welcome, as this was just an experiment. Thanks, Pete. 🙂