Borley Rectory Re-Visited

For lovers of a short, well-crafted ghost story, Stevie Turner has just posted a great one! Check out the link.

Stevie Turner

I’ve always been fascinated by the old Borley Rectory, which was once the most haunted house in England before it was destroyed by fire. I thought I’d write a little story about it below – hope you like it.

Borley Rectory Re-Visited.

Copyright Stevie Turner 2023

28th February 1939

I had been lucky enough to live locally at the time, and had answered the advert when Harry Price had been looking for official observers. We were at Helen Glanville’s séance on the night when Sunex Amures came through to say that he would burn down Borley Rectory. Maybe he had changed his mind at the last moment, because a devastating fire had been extinguished only yesterday after the new owner Captain Gregson had unpacked boxes and knocked over an oil lamp.

As I lived in the next road, I felt a need to see the old rectory again before…

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Guest Post: John Liming

John is a blogger from America who mainly concentrates on the political situation in his country. However, he also posts some fascinating recollections of his youth, and has sent me a short story with a Gothic theme that I am happy to present here as a guest post.

To see more of John’s writing, opinions, and thoughts, please use this link.
https://limingslynkz8.blog/

Yon Cathedral Structure.

Yon cathedral structure,
Bathed in light of amber,
Notwithstanding, cold.
What dread, unholy scene,
Is yet here to unfold?

The moon shone full and bright upon the ruined old cathedral, casting eerie shadows that danced upon the gravestones. A chill wind blew, rustling the dry leaves and causing the gnarled trees to creak and moan. The ancient building was a ghostly sight, its spires and arches rising up against the sky like the bones of the dead in the graves that surrounded it.

It was an ethereal, dream-like vision — enough to make the blood run cold and to paralyze the observer into immobility.

The cathedral was abandoned long ago, left to crumble and decay. But it was not truly empty. Many souls lay buried in crypts and tombs in the surrounding graveyard, their rotting bodies resting in eternal slumber. Yet, their spirits restless, their presence felt in the cold night air.

One could almost hear the soft moans and cries and sometimes the hollow laughter of these poor souls — with every creaking of the trees in the wind.

No one knew who lay beneath the gravestones, for their tombstones were too weathered and worn. But their ghosts wandered the cemetery, their mournful cries echoing through the silent ruins. The wind carried their voices, whispering tales of woe and despair.

They always seemed to be searching for something or someone but never finding what they were looking for,

How had they been abandoned and confined to this existence between heaven and earth in this silent special place or were they simply in transition to somewhere or something else?

As the night wore on, the moon began to wane, and the darkness deepened. Shadows grew longer, and the graveyard seemed to come alive. A faint light glimmered in the distance, flickering and dancing like a will-o’-the-wisp. It seemed to call out to the restless souls, drawing them closer to the old cathedral.

The earth quaked as those restless souls clawed their way to the surface of their resting places where “Rest” was just a cruel joke — There was a muted rumble as the earth was disturbed.

Suddenly, a figure appeared in the darkness. It was a figure like unto a man, dressed in black, with a cloak that billowed behind it in the wind. He walked among the graves, his footsteps echoing hollowly. He seemed to be searching for something, his eyes darting back and forth in the flickering light.

He wandered and searched silently, his feet walking but never touching the ground. A spectre of some sort was he.

The other ghosts watched him warily, uncertain of his purpose. But the spirit paid them no heed, his attention fixed on the cathedral. He approached the door, which creaked open at his touch.

Inside, the wraith moved silently, his footsteps not touching but nonetheless stirring the thick layer of dust that covered the floor. He made his way through the shadows, his eyes scanning the darkness for any signs of other life. But there was none.

It is not hard to imagine that death has a life of its own.

At last, he came to a door, which he pushed open with a soft creak. Inside, a single candle burned, casting flickering shadows upon the walls. A figure sat hunched over a table, its face hidden in the shadows.

The blurry searching figure approached cautiously, and hovered and stared — But as he drew nearer, he realized that the figure hunched over the table was neither human nor spirit. It was a statue, carved from stone and painted to look like flesh.

With a shudder and a scream that pierced the night, the wraith slowly turned and left the cathedral, his visage dissipating slowly into the darkness. The other ghosts watched him go, their eyes following him until he disappeared from view. And then they returned to their restless wandering, their mournful cries echoing through the graveyard once more.

And as the night lifted it’s velvet dark mantle and the first rays of morn had come, there sounded a subtle chorus of distant, muted angelic voices, greeting the day.

The Destructors

Following one of my recent photo posts, I was recommended to read a short story. It is called ‘The Destructors’, written by the famous novelist, Graham Greene. He wrote ‘The Third Man’, ‘Brighton Rock’, and many other well-known books. I hadn’t heard of the story, but was able to find it online, free to read.

It takes just 20 minutes to read, and is a powerful story indeed. Many thanks to Liz Guffreau for her suggestion. https://lizgauffreau.com/category/blog/

This is the link to the story.

https://shortstoryproject.com/stories/the-destructors/

Mabel’s Day Out.

This is a fictional short story, in 675 words.

She was all in a fluster, as she knew she would be. Why had she agreed when Elsie suggested the day trip? It was an early start, and she wasn’t that bothered about Highclere Castle, even if it was the location where they filmed Downton Abbey. To tell the truth, she had only watched a bit of the first series before getting bored with it, but she daren’t tell Elsie that, as it was her all time favourite television programme.

It had to be said, the cost was very reasonable. Only forty-nine pounds, and that included admission, and a light lunch somewhere after. It was a three hour drive each way too, in what was described as a luxury air conditioned coach. Not that they would need airconditioning today. It was chilly enough for Mabel to make sure she had a thick cardigan in her shoulder bag.

Most of the group from the Pensioner’s Club were going, and Mabel hadn’t had the heart to say no. Nor a decent enough excuse. She had thought about saying she had a hospital appointment, but Elsie always went with her to those, so she would know it wasn’t true.

If only Reginald had still been alive. She could have used him as a reason not to go, considering how bad he was after the stroke.

They had to meet the coach in the town car park at eight. At least the car park was free all day, but Mabel so rarely drove anywhere these days. She had only bothered to learn to drive after Reg’s stroke, and although she passed on her third try, she was never very confident. Going to the shops or the hospital was about all she could manage, and she had to do that, like it or not.

It was alright for Elsie, her son Terry would drop her off. Workshy, he was. Still lived at home, and almost sixty. Never did anything, never had.

After checking the contents of her bag, and making sure everything in the bungalow was switched off, she went out to the garage. The best thing Reg had done before he died was having an automatic door installed for the garage. She could never have managed pulling up that old metal door.

When she turned the key in the Honda Jazz Reg had left her there was no starting noise, only a red light on the dial. Mabel knew nothing about cars, so she tried again. Just the same red light, and a faint clicking sound. With no time to mess around, she went back inside to ring a taxi.

“Sorry, all the cabs are out doing the school runs. We can fit you in after nine, if that helps”. She told the lady that was too late. What to do now? It was over three miles to the town car park, and with her hips that was too far to walk. Besides, she was eighty-one, and didn’t walk anywhere these days. It would take her too long, maybe two hours with stops to rest her hips. No chance she was going to do that.

Elsie had one of those mobile phones. She could ring her and explain. The number was in the book in the drawer under the telephone, and she misdialled it the first time. The second time there was just a beeping noise, and it cut off. She wondered if Elsie even had the bloody thing switched on.

Then she had a thought. Ring the coach company, and see it they could pick her up. It wasn’t too far out of the way. She got the Yellow Pages from the drawer, then realised she didn’t know the name of the company. Elsie had sorted all that.

On the clock in the hallway, it was ten past eight. She had missed the coach anyway, and she was sure Elsie would be furious, having to sit on her own.

Mabel smiled, then went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

She never liked Downton Abbey anyway.

Guest Post: Abbie Johnson Taylor

I was delighted to receive another guest post from American writer and blogger, Abbie. A short story that was previously published in a magazine.
To read more from Abbie, follow this link to her site.
https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/wp/

JUST MY LUCK

by Abbie Johnson Taylor

The weekend after I was laid off from my job as a high school guidance counselor, my husband Charles and I went skiing. I took a flying leap off a small hill and landed spread-eagled in the snow, my skis pointing in one direction, my poles in another. My right knee was badly twisted.

On Monday, my birthday, Charles said he had out of town business that couldn’t wait. After promising to return late Friday night and kissing me on the cheek, he was out the door. Here I was, with no job, no husband, and no one to take care of me. I lay on the living room couch and wallowed in self-pity, while watching a mindless game show on television.

When the doorbell rang, I struggled to my feet, picked up my crutches, and hobbled to answer it. Reaching for the doorknob, I heard a thud, then two men yelling and punching each other. When I opened the door, I gasped at the sight in front of me. A box of fruit lay torn open on the porch. Planters were broken, and pears had rolled everywhere. Two guys were fighting and yelling. A UPS truck was parked in the driveway, and a sport utility vehicle stood on the street directly in front of the house.

“What’s going on?” I yelled.

The two men stopped and looked at me sheepishly. One of them handed me a business card that read “Doug Ross, Certified Massage Therapist.”

“Teresa Redford?” he said.

I nodded.

“Happy birthday. Your husband arranged for me to give you a massage today.”

The UPS driver said, “I also have a delivery for you. It looks like a subscription to a fruit of the month club.” His gaze shifted to the smashed pears on the porch.

“And you guys were fighting over who would make the first delivery?” They looked at each other and shrugged.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” I said. “Come in out of the cold.”

They followed me into the kitchen, where I started making coffee. The massage therapist put a hand on my shoulder. “Sit down. I’ll do that.”

“I’ll clean up the mess on the porch,” the UPS driver said. “You’ll be reimbursed for what was broken. I’m really sorry.”

A few minutes later, we were drinking coffee and eating pears that weren’t too badly damaged. “Would you guys like to tell me what’s on your minds?” I asked.

The UPS driver said, “Doug and I have been friends for years. A couple of months ago, I met the most incredible woman. I made the mistake of introducing her to him. Now, she’s seeing him and wants to break up with me. But you know what, Doug? You can have her. I found someone better.”

“Glad we got past that one, Brent,” Doug said. “Still friends?”

“Still friends.” The two shook hands.

For the price Charles paid for one massage, Doug gave me daily treatments, paying special attention to my injured knee. Brent also came every day and brought more fresh fruit.

On Monday afternoon when the mail came, I opened Charles’s credit card statement. He usually took care of the bills, but I was bored to tears and sick of game shows, news programs, and soap operas. I was shocked when I saw charges for restaurants where we’d never eaten, a flower shop, a jewelry store, and a hotel in Denver, Colorado. I couldn’t remember the last time Charles gave me flowers or jewelry. His work often took him out of Wyoming. So, the hotel charges probably weren’t suspicious.

On Monday night, I called Charles’s cell and a woman answered, “Hello?”

“Oh, who’s this?” I asked.

“I’m Melanie.” She giggled.

“I’m sorry,” I said, not surprised. “I was trying to reach Charles Redford. I’m his wife. I must have the wrong number.”

After that, Doug and Brent took turns spending the night. They gave me more than massages and fresh fruit. Charles never called, and I didn’t try to reach him again.

On Friday night, when Brent and Doug both showed up at the same time, I said, “Both of you can have me tonight. Let’s get a pizza and watch a movie.”

When Charles walked in late that night, he found the three of us snuggled on the living room couch, watching Casablanca. Doug was rubbing my injured knee, and Brent’s arm was around my shoulder. A bowl of oranges stood on the coffee table.

As Charles gaped at us, I placed an arm around each of them and kissed Doug, then Brent. “Hi, honey. Did you have a nice time with Melanie?”

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in The Writer’s Grapevine, The Weekly Avocet, and Magnets and Ladders. Please visit her website at: https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Photo-Prompt Story: Helen’s Art Class

My thanks to Ed Westen for the photo that prompted this short story. https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/

Brad was one of those guys that you looked at, and just knew. Knew that you would end up in his bed, and with any luck, end up as his wife too. It didn’t hurt that as well as being drop-dead gorgeous, he owned one of the largest auto retailers in the state. Helen was his nominated conference organiser, and he wanted to be very hands-on with the arrangements for the new car launch.

In more ways than one, as it turned out.

To say he swept her off her feet would be accurate, except that she had as much to do with that happening as Brad did. After the gig was successfully wrapped up, she readily accepted his invitation to his house for drinks. It was a wonderful house in a magnificent spot, and she was soon imagining herself as the lady of that house.

He didn’t seem to see how lovely it was, being more interested in the six-car garage that held his beloved classic cars. Helen got the tour, and none of them were the Mercedes models he sold all across the state, oh no. A Maserati, an old Triumph TR Roadster, and the Porsche Spyder identical to the one that James Dean was killed in. And that was only the first row. Behind those sat a Chevy Bel-Air from 1956, a Lancia Stratos, and his pride and joy, the 1960 Citroen DS convertible.

Helen tried to look impressed, but in truth she was more impressed by the Mercedes limousine that he had driven her there in, telling her, “I have to drive one of these because of work, but I hate the thing”.

In the bedroom, he was every bit as good as she had guessed he would be. So the next morning when he suggested they go to an auto show on the coast, she said yes, as long as she could go home first and change. For her, that was a dull day. Brad drooled over American cars from before the war, and she smiled in the right places, oohing and aahing when appropriate.

By the end of the month, he was hooked, and they had become a couple. Not wanting her to be away for work, he sugested she give up the conferences job and move in with him. She made some noises about it being too soon, but gave in when the time seemed right. No point missing the chance, after all.

Three months later, the wedding was a grand affair, and she used all of her skills to make it just right. Her family flew in from back east, and were amazed at the opulence, and the marvellous house up on the rocks overlooking the valley. Then Brad rounded off the day by presenting her with a wedding gift, a new Mercedes. As the guests clapped, Helen’s smile was fixed. It was an A220, the cheapest model money could buy. And he had got it at trade price of course.

But she took the key from the white silk cushion, and drove it around the driveway in circles, smiling gratefully.

What was it about men that made them change so much after being married? He always got home late from work, and wolfed down whatever she had prepared to eat without comment. All he wanted to do was to get into his workshop overalls and play with his cars. Other than dragging her to countless auto shows, he never wanted to do anything else. They didn’t go to restaurants, and never had friends over. In fact, Brad didn’t have any friends. Not one.

On their first anniversary, he drove her to a Maserati Owner’s Club show, spending all his time talking to boring guys about how great their cars were. She was bored senseless, and suggested a vacation. “I can’t leave the business, sweetheart. You can’t trust anyone to run it properly, and times are tough in the automotive industry. Why don’t you take up a hobby? Painting, photography, maybe jewellery making? You can remodel the house if you want to, just leave the garage alone”.

Lying awake that night as he spent time in his study looking at car magazines, she made a decision. She would take a class, as he suggested.

At breakfast the next morning, she was sweetness and light. “I think you are right, honey. I need something to fill my time. I’m going to take an art class in the city”. He kissed the top of her head as he left. “Why don’t you do just that? I will pose for a portrait one day, or even better you could paint my Lancia”.

Helen did sign up for that class. But it was not in Art. She chose Home Auto Mechanics. After a year with Brad she could talk syncromesh gearboxes, stick shifts, and oil changes with the best of them. But hands-on was what she realy needed. Dressing-down was easy. One ankle-to-neck overall, some latex gloves to protect her manicure, and her hair put up on her head. She could keep the overall and box of gloves in her car, confident in the knowledge that Brad would never open the trunk. Even though she was the only female on the course, the guy running it didn’t try to hit on her.

She had a feeling that he preferred other guys.

It took three weeks before they got to brakes. How to change the pads and discs, check the brake fluid, bleed it if necessary. The parking brake was covered too, even though in her car it was just a button. After week four, which was changing a flat, she told the guy something had come up, and she wouldn’t be back. As she had paid in full in cash and given a false name, there was no way he could come looking for her anyway. He offered to refund some of the cost, but she told him not to bother. She had got her money’s worth, though he wasn’t to know that.

Two weeks later, she got her chance. As he left for work, Brad stopped as if he had remembered something. “I’m taking the Triumph to a show this weekend. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, honey”. Smiling at her husband, she replied. “Okay, you have a nice time. I might go get a pedicure, maybe a massage”.

That Friday afternoon, it didn’t take Helen too long to loosen the brake pipes on the Triumph. She put plenty of kitchen paper under the car, so he wouldn’t notice any drips of brake fluid. She had learned well on the course. If there was a loose pipe, applying the brakes would start to pump out the fluid. Before too long the reservoir would be dry, and the brakes would not stop the car. Between the house and the highway was a long descent, marked by no less than ten hairpin bends. Brad loved to drive around them at full speed, boasting about how well he could handle them.

The florist had his bouquet ready. Two dozen white roses. As it was their second anniversary, Brad thought it appropriate to leave some flowers at the crash site. The Highway Patrol had told him that the steering linkage on the Mercedes had been faulty. It had failed completely on the third hairpin, sending Helen’s car tumbling down onto the rocks below. After the fire, all that was left was a wheel trim, a headlight housing, a torn-up tire, and part of the track rod.

As he drove to where it happened, Brad had to smile to himself. Helen thought she knew him, but she didn’t know him at all. The day before he gave her the car as a wedding gift, he had placed a tracker under the wheel arch. It showed her car parked outside the Auto Mechanics class for two hours every week. When the brakes on the Triumph didn’t feel right, he had taken the Citroen instead.

But not before making a small adjustment to her Mercedes.

Photo Prompt Story: Easy Money

My thanks to Ed Westen at https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/ for this photo to use as a short story prompt.

Not that he knew the first thing about boats, but Dennis would try his hand at anything that didn’t involve hard work. Regular jobs were for saps, as far as he was concerned. Vince told him that for a grand each, they could buy old man Mackenzie’s boat that he used to use for fishing, and he would throw in the outboard too. Maybe even trailer it down to the boat dock.

During his last spell in prison, Vince had met a guy who knew other guys. They would pay good money to get things across from Mexico on Falcon Lake. Dennis was worried though. He had heard tell of criminals robbing people on the lake, even stealing boats. Vince laughed. “WE will be the criminals, you fool. Lighten up!” There were other worries though. Border patrols on both sides, American and Mexican. Vince lit a cigarette and shook his head. “How much d’you think those guys earn? I have contacts who have contacts. They pay the bribes, we make the deliveries. It’s easy money, my friend”.

When Mackenzie put he boat in the water and took his money, Vince produced two old fishing rods and a bucket of bait. He grinned. “Gotta have a cover story, just in case”. Dennis hoped he didn’t have to convince anyone he was a fisherman. He had never held a rod in his life. But his partner in crime was full of confidence. “You just leave it to me. I can drive this old boat, I know the signals to watch for, and I just need you to help load the goods and ride shotgun”. With that he showed an old assault rifle, stashed in a sports bag. “Locked and loaded, two spare magazines”.

Although his short army career had mostly been spent in military prison, Dennis at least knew how to use a rifle.

The first job did go easy. Vince’s contacts were on the Mexican side where he said they would be, just as the sun set. The packages were wrapped in plastic, and not too heavy, though Dennis was uneasy at the looks he was getting from the four silent men who were all wearing sunglasses. They slept on the boat that night, and crossed back to Texas at first light, transferring the packages into Vince’s Dodge Ram and covering them with bags of gravel. Then they drove to a motel in the middle of nowhere, and Vince went into a room to talk to different contacts.

As he dropped Dennis outside his apartment that night, he smiled as he handed over three thousand dollars. “There’s your money back, and lots more. Same again next week, I’ll give you a call”.

After counting the money, he took a shower and drove his old Renegade into town. There was a girl at Masie’s he had a hankering for, and he had enough money to pay for just what he wanted from her. With a good bowl of chili and a few beers inside him, he walked into the bordello waving hundred dollar bills. “Tell Charlene Dennis is here. If she’s busy, I’ll wait”.

The second job was even easier. Seemed like the Mex trusted them now, and there were no scary guys in sunglasses. The load was twice the size, and Dennis was sure the boat was too heavy. Vince smiled as he spoke. “You gotta stop worrying. This boat can take it. Might slow us down a little, but we’ll get across”.

And he was right, though the load made the springs creak on the Dodge. This time, Dennis got five thousand, and his eyes lit up at all the bills as they were handed over. Vince grabbed his shoulder, hard enough to hurt. “Now you stay sensible, and don’t go throwing the money around. Don’t change your car, or go buying a fancy watch or such like. This could make us both rich, but we gotta be careful”.

By the time they made the fifth trip, Dennis had close to twenty thousand hidden away in a metal box buried near a tree. And he had been talking to Charlene about going exclusive with her, suggesting she could move into his place and stop working. When she asked where he got the money from, he touched the side of his nose and winked.

Vince sounded happy when he called. “This will be our last fishing trip for a while, and I’m hoping for a big catch. I’ll pick you up on Sunday, first light”.

Once the boat was loaded, they hid in their usual spot on the lake and had a few beers from the cooler before sleeping. The next morning at sunup it was hot, and Dennis was sweating more than usual. “How much do you reckon this time, Vince? This is the biggest load yet”. His friend shrugged. “Maybe ten grand for your end. Like I said, easy money”.

As they tied off the boat in front of where the Dodge was parked, four men walked from behind Vince’s pickup. Then a smaller person appeared, a woman. It was Charlene. She pointed at Dennis. “That’s him. Don’t know the other fella”. Vince looked at Dennis, and inclined his head at the sports bag. But the firing started before he could slide the zip.

Todd Mackenzie followed the rangers down to the edge of the lake. The younger one pointed at a boat half sunk. “This your boat?” The old man nodded.

“Was at one time, but I sold it to two guys I didn’t know”.

Photo Prompt Story: Clyde’s New Bike

My thanks to Ed Westen from https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/ for this photo to use as a short story prompt.

Esme was tired of her son’s pestering. Sure, he had worked at the lumber mill weekends to raise some money, but he was still going to need two hundred dollars from her to buy the bike. He said he wouldn’t ride it on the road, just as well at his age. But she just knew he was a reckless boy, and even riding on tracks in the woods might be dangerous. Who was going to help out if he went and got himself all busted up?

The sulking was the worst, and the whining. She hated whining.

“But ma, if I don’t say yes soon, that bike is gonna sell for certain. It’s only two hundred, and you know I will work at the mill to pay it back”.

They couldn’t have a meal in peace without him whittering on about that damn bike. And he had to trek all the way over to Chatsworth to buy it. She guessed it was those Weaver twins he hung out with. They both had bikes, and he was always on the back of one of those. When Cyde spent the whole weekend shut up in his room, Esme knew she would have to give in.

There was genuine delight in her boy’s face when she gave him the money. She hadn’t seen him that happy since before his daddy took off. Bo Weaver came by to take him to Chatsworth to see the guy selling the bike, and she waved them off with a shake of her head. “You boys be careful now, y’hear!”

Bo laughed at the small Honda, but Clyde didn’t give a fig for his teasing. He passed over the cash, and got the key and paperwork from the man. Between Chatsworth and home, there were some of the biggest woods in the state, and he had a mind to explore them. They bought gas on the corner, then Bo took his leave. He had to work the afternoon shift at the mill, so needed to get back to town. Clyde headed into the woods, the warm breeze on his face, and a new-found feeling of freedom puffing up his chest.

Roy Mullaney didn’t care much for people. Most of those he had met during a long life were as low as dog shit, in his opinion. He liked his own company, and only drove into town once a month for supplies. He was proud of his cabin, built it him himself on land he bought deep inside the woods. He lived on his veteran’s pension, and didn’t need much besides his books and his old dog, Barney.

Just lately though, he was bothered. Kids on dirt bikes tearing around on his property, showing no respect. They upset Barney too, set him off growling and barking. Most times they were gone before he could get to them, and sometimes if they saw him they would holler and-cat call, maybe even give him the finger. The notices didn’t stop them neither. PRIVATE LAND. KEEP OUT. Roy had placed them all around. Many times he found them ridden down, covered in dusty tire tracks.

He heard the engine from a way off. Sounded like the muffler had been removed, rasping like an angry wasp. Barney sat up on the porch, and his ears pricked up at the sound. A low growl sounded in his throat, and Roy petted him. “It’s okay, old fella. You stay here”.

Maybe Clyde had ridden the bike too hard, or could be that the man had lied when he said it was always reliable. But it stopped dead across some tire-ruts in the woods, and nothing he could do would get the thing started again. He had no choice but to push it, and it was going to take a very long time. Bo would come by and help him fix it, he just had to get it home.

When he saw the man walking toward him along the ruts, he was relieved. Maybe he had a car or truck nearby, and would help him out. Clyde stopped walking and raised a hand in greeting. “Hey, mister…”

He didn’t hear the blast that cut him short, just felt the impact on his chest. First he was looking at the sky, then blackness.

Roy racked another shell into the pump shotgun as he carried on walking. But once he got close to the boy, he knew he wouldn’t need it. Back at the cabin, he got a shovel and some rope, and Barney jumped into the passenger seat of the pickup as he drove off.

He buried the boy under the big tree, then used the tow hitch of the pickup to drag the bike over the branch next to the other ones before tying it off.

If the signs didn’t work, maybe this would.

Photo Prompt Story: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

My thanks to Fraggle, from https://fragglerocking.org/ for this photo prompt. It has taken me a long time to getting round to using it.

Michigan was a long way from the south, and young John didn’t recall ever seeing a slave. But those rebs had started a ruckus by firing on a fort somewhere, and he had a mind to join in before it was all over. He talked to Caleb about it, and that boy was as keen as mustard. “Reckon we’ll have to lie about our age, John. But pa says they need a lot of soldiers, and they needs them now. Can’t see them bothering too much about a year or two”.

The recruiting sergeant shook his head as they stood in front of his desk. “You gotta be joshing me, boys. Why don’t you go home to your mommas afore they wonder where you got to?” The boys faces coloured red, and they put on their hats and walked off in a sulk.

His older sisters teased him when he got home, and mom cuffed him around the head. “What d’you think you’re playing at, boy? I never heard of such a thing. Soldiering at your age? And your pa dead but a year after that accident. Now get washed up for dinner!”

Things changed after Bull Run. Despite being the same age, they took Caleb. Well, he was a head taller, and they ignored the lie.

December was as cold as always, and John made up his mind. Come the new year of sixty-two, he would try again. The Federal Army was losing all over, and didn’t seem to have the sand to stand against those rebs. Some said it was bad generals, ’cause the rebs had better ones. John would read the newspapers he found thrown down in the streets, and became more determined he just had to go.

When the news came about Caleb, he was shocked. Hard to imagine Caleb gone, and in some place in Missouri that he had never heard of. Truth be told, John didn’t even know where Missouri was.

Two days later, he got up when it was still dark. Sneaking out, he took a spare shirt, and some bread from the larder, before making the long walk into Detroit. It was still cold, so he walked fast to stay warm. Someone at the edge of the city told him how to find the recruiting office, and he managed to keep the directions in his head in the city he had only been to once before in his short life.

The queue was small, and once the doors opened he was soon inside. This time, nobody mentioned his age, or that he was so short. Some doctor in a white coat looked him over, pronounced him fit for service, and he was sent to wait in a wagon with the others. Sitting on the rough plank, he swallowed hard. He was in the Union Army, 15th Michigan Infantry.

For the rest, it was mostly a blur. Training to march, training to carry and shoot the heavy rifle, trying to get on with the others who were mostly city boys from Detroit. They ragged him a lot, and made him do the unpleasant jobs. It was no never mind to John, as he would soon be fighting the rebs, and avenging Caleb. Then he had the blue uniform, and felt he stood taller in it. The rumours were all around the camp. They were heading south and west.

Mississippi.

The next few days were all about marching, wagons, and trains. Sergeant Kraus pushed him awake as he dozed on a station platform. Kraus laughed, his teeth stained dark from chaw. “Hurry up and wait, little John. Hurry up and wait boy”. On the last train, John felt the heat down south. Packed into the carriages, it felt hotter than hell for October, and then they had to march to the defences at Corinth. He sweated right through the stiff uniform, and his backpack and rifle felt like they would drag him down to the ground. He saw his first artillery shells exploding as they dropped onto the works around the town.

Rebel shells.

Inside the dugout, they had to parade for Captain Stagle. He set his jaw, and told them the worst. “Boys, Van Dorn is out there with his rebel army. He reckons to attack soon, and we are going to be waiting for him”. He waited for the ragged cheer that followed. “I am pleased to tell you that we will be at the front. We are going to be outside the earthworks, and give those rebs a nasty surprise. Come on the fifteenth!” The next cheer was heartier, but John knew they were all hungry and tired.

All they had that night was hard biscuit and beans. And they had to sleep on the ground between the rebs and the trenches. Sergeant Kraus roused him at first light, and all he had was the water in his canteen. The humidity was awful, and he could not even recall the last time he had washed himself.

When the enemy artillery started just after nine, the only relief was that that death was falling on the defences to the rear. It was close to lunchtime when John saw his first reb, as they swarmed in front of him screeching that terrible yell. Sergeant Kraus shouted at him, “Fire your rifle, boy!” Then Kraus fell dead with a minie ball through his head.

John fired without seeing a target, and reloaded. But the rebs were upon them, and the company was running back to the trenches. He ran with the others, and didn’t see the man who fired the bullet into his back. Just felt the earth in his mouth as he fell, screaming in pain.

The Union Army won the battle of Corinth, after a hard fight.

But Johnny never marched home.

Photo Prompt Story: Rudra And The Monkeys

My thanks to Jude from https://cornwallincolours.blog/ (and other blogs) for sending me this photo as a short story prompt. This is a belated entry from 2020, as I saved some photos at the time.

The men waited by the square where the buses arrived. Big buses, minibuses, small jeeps, taxis, any vehicle that could cram in some paying customers. They looked for arriving families with children, the easiest targets.

Children liked the monkeys, and wanted their photos taken with them. After a long, dusty journey the parents were usually happy to please the fractious infants. And if there were Nanis or Dadis, those grandparents were usually happy to part with a few rupees to let the monkeys sit on the shoulders of their little ones, even if they had no phone or camera to capture the moment.

Rudra was always there at weekends. He hated those two men because he saw what they did before the buses arrived. They beat the excitable monkeys with sticks, denied them food and water, and only gave them enough to survive, as long as they didn’t upset any paying customers by screeching or biting. He thought those men should have a real job.

They could mend shoes, just as his father did, or wash clothes, like his mother. That had sent Rudra to school, and he had learned how to read. He had also discovered the ways of the world at a young age.

The world was cruel.

Sometimes, the two men beat the monkeys so badly that they could no longer walk, or sit on the shoulders of customers. He wanted to do something, but first he had to grow strong, and to try to save some money. He knew where the men slept after they had eaten, keeping the monkeys on tight ropes close to them. One day he would act, but that day was a long time coming.

Just after his tenth birthday he had enough strength, and enough rupees saved from odd jobs.

Sneaking out of the house was easy enough. Mother and father were tired after a long day at work, and as soon as dinner was eaten, they were sleeping on their mats. He had to act quickly though, taking the small sharp knife from under the cooking pot and treading the well-used path to the back of the market where the buses and taxis stopped.

There was a good chance that the men had been drinking, as he had seen them doing that at dusk. They slept under a large plastic sheet at the side of the road behind the wall, the monkeys held on ropes tied around their feet. He wasn’t used to being out in the dark. It felt scary, and there were no buses in the market place. After so many years, Rudra felt strong and determined. This was his one chance.

Sure enough, the men were snoring, and probably drunk. The monkeys chattered as he approached, but they were also tired. It was easy to cut the ropes close to the men’s feet without disturbing their slumbers. As he led the monkeys away, Rupra was hoping that he could find a motor rickshaw still plying for hire in the town. He had to wake up the driver, who was sleeping on the back seat. The man waved him away at first, but his eyes were brighter when he was shown the rupees.

Climbing into the back with the monkeys, Rudra told him to take him as far away as the money would last. As the driver set off, the boy stared into the darkness. Once out of the town, fields stretched out on both sides of the dusty road. It was some time before trees could be seen up ahead, and the rickshaw stopped. The driver said his money had got him this far, but no further.

As he led the monkeys toward the trees, he looked back into the darkness. The rickshaw was turning in the road, heading back to town. Inside the cover of the trees, it was so dark he could hardly see to slip the ropes from each monkey’s neck in turn. At first they just stood by him, reluctant to leave his side. Then there was a loud noise from deeper inside the forest, and one of the monkeys scampered up the nearest tree. It was soon followed by the other three, and Rudra could hear them climbing higher. Once they were in the highest branches, he turned and headed for home.

The walk was tiring, but he got back before dawn. And he was grateful for the long, straight road that guided him back into town. Slipping off his sandals, he tiptoed in and carefully replaced the knife under the cooking pot. Sleep came soon once he was lying quietly on the mat, and he dreamed of monkeys enjoying freedom in the trees.

After breakfast, Rudra was keen to run to the market place. He wanted to see the disappointment of the awful men when they had no monkeys to tempt people arriving. The smile on his face was so wide, he felt his mouth stretching. But as he looked over the wall, that smile disappeared.

There were the men, holding their sticks. And they had four different monkeys, ropes tied around their necks. They were calling to the people getting off of the buses, and prodding the monkeys to make them jump around. The boy turned and sat with his back against the wall, not wanting to see any more. Tears formed, and trickled down his cheeks.

The world was cruel.