Featured Blogger: Gary Holdaway

I am happy to feature Gary again. He has completely revised his site, and offers stories to read, as well as services like ghostwriting and copywriting.
https://gdholdaway.com/

A young writer from the UK with big ideas, and an even bigger passion for words. A multigenre author of both novels and short fiction, Gary has a flare for the suspenseful, the frightening, and the unknown.

His post today is a fictional short story.
(It contains some swearing)

Morrisey’s Last Symphony
By Gary Holdaway.

Like most fresh recruits, Morrisey had grand visions of his military prowess on the field.With a Captain-America-like finesse he’d breeze through war zones with excellence and ease, quickly rising through the ranks to shine out among the others. Eventually he’d lead his own unit, and they’d claim victory after victory for his country.

Morrisey could not have been more wrong. He passed out of Lympstone by the skin of his teeth, shocked, though accepting of the fact, that the physical side of things was much harder than it looked. The three year delay before enlisting to start his family had softened him. He hadn’t accounted for the mental and emotional exhaustion that came alongside ‘becoming the best,’ or the longing for home. None of them did.

Now he sat panting with his back pinned to a tree barely wide enough to shield his shoulders, stuck in the middle of a shit-stinking mountaintop gunfight with blood pulsing from a hole in his shoulder. His clavicle was shattered, he could tell from the cold sweat and nausea that rose from the shock.

Afghanistan was a monster all of its own. Not only did the sun draw out every bead ofhydration from each available pore, but the rocky earth tore feet to shreds as if each separate boot-ridge were carved into the skin. All in that moment it became abundantly clear that ‘becoming the best’ meant fuck all against hundreds of untrained insurgents with AKs —some of them no more than teenagers, barely able to take the weight of the gun let alone handle the recoil. They’re kids. Just fucking kids.

His wound painted the dry earth with deep red splatters, his vision blurry through the buildup of tears and dust. He could just make out the features of Tait, or maybe Lilley, a few metres south, firing off ear-shattering rounds from behind an equally pathetic tree. They were done. Mission failure. Already in the fucking earth.

Bullets whistled through the air, smashing bark from trees. Magazines pounded out bullets from M4s, AKs, and whatever else the bastards could get their hands on, empty shells clanging against the ground like metallic raindrops. The impact between bullet and flesh, the thud of lifeless bodies slamming to the ground, played like bass and snare drums to a song nobody wanted to hear.

He drifted to the edge of his consciousness along a torrent of haphazard scenes from the war-movies Jennifer had him watch. He had always struggled with movies. He didn’t hate them, but could hardly sit through a full one without shuffling around, checking his phone, pausing to get food, or engaging in some other interruption that turned a two hour activity into a four hour one. But there was one that hooked him, scared him even, and he couldn’t shake it. Lone Survivor, with Mark Wahlberg. What a fitting movie to dredge up from the darkest corners of his mind while he found himself in a situation of certain death.

He entered a dreamscape between life and death, a surreal blend of memory and movie and book and music. His mind danced between cuts of his short existence, some as recent as yesterday, others distant and scarcely recalled, like slides in some corporate presentation. Lines and moments from a more random collection of movies flicked in and out of his mind. Arnold Schwarzenegger calling the predator an “Ugly Motherfucker’ while Martin Lawrence looks into a fish bowl and slurs the famous line: “This is a nice fish… Big fucking eyes, but a nice fucking fish.”

The sounds of battle around him twisted themselves into Schubert’s most beautiful symphonies, his mind resting on scenes of him typing freely on his laptop, creating escapist worlds of fantasy and horror. He loved to write. He’d spend hours creating vast universes and vibrant characters, with nothing but the delicate sounds of piano playing in the background. Now his mind created the same scene for him, in a transcendent universe where he was able
to watch himself at his desk, content and swaying with the music.

He’d never write again. And how would he write this story anyway? He supposed it’d go a hell of a lot like Lone Survivor, except without the surviving part.

His consciousness pressed on in this fashion, presenting anything but the pain, the noise, the screams and the winces of his brothers-in-arms as they were closed in, shot at, and hit bad. He was acutely aware of those things, like the background noise of Sarah and Freddie running around the house while he clung to that extra ten minutes of sleep each morning. Like the two or three times Jennifer tried to wake him with a cup of tea, her words heard, but not acknowledged. The dream was too captivating for the real world to penetrate its defences.

His eyes closed as he saw their faces for the last time. Each expression, each freckle, analysed and explored. The too-close-for-comfort BANG of a grenade set the inside of his eyelids to burst into multicoloured shapes. A rainbow shattering like a mirror, each fragment a separate screen playing memories of his family and friends.

He heard their voices say ‘I love you, Morrisey.’ He said the words back, as raw and as real as they could ever be said.

Morrisey’s body relaxed as he drifted into nothingness, the expert fingers of Schubert playing in tune with his final breath.

Story: The Dog And His Man

Shaily wrote a story just for me, about Ollie and me.
How wonderful is that?

Short Stories | Fish-eye Perspective

alex-motoc-YzOhaPkU-E8-unsplashI take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He needs one.

He may complain about the early hours, the rainy weather and the muddy footprints on the floor but he loves them too. I’ve seen how he inhales the freshness in the air, not yet tainted by the traffic of the rush hour. I know he loves the dragonflies at the river, so I pull him there too. I splash around while he grumbles, until the old man gets his toes wet and relaxes visibly.

He sometimes protests that he is getting too old for this, but well, so am I. It is not easy to chase a deer anymore, but I do that anyway. How else will he get his exercise?

He may give me only one sausage a day and be a scrooge-ish when it comes to my biscuits. But I love him anyway, so…

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Photo Prompt Story: Transport

This is a short story, in 1132 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s Blog.

https://suejudd.com/

Rosa didn’t listen to anything the kids said. She was going, and that was that. Yes, she was getting old now, and yes, she had never been on an airplane. But she didn’t care. If she didn’t do this now, she might never do it. Herman took her to the airport, sitting in the heavy afternoon traffic trying to talk her out of it at the last minute. She suspected he was worried about the money she was spending. Her oldest son seemed to mention money a lot these days. Well, he would get his share, less what she spent on what might be her one and only trip back to Europe.

The first stop was Paris, but she had no time to visit the famous French city, other than the airport. The flight had been strange, and tiring, but the stewardesses had been nice. The couple she was sat next to had spent the whole time looking at screens, or lying back with headphones in their ears. She hadn’t minded that at all, as she didn’t really want to make small talk. Sometimes, it seemed that she had spent her adult life making nothing but small talk.

The next flight had been shorter, and it was colder than in France when she arrived. The taxi driver taking her to the hotel confrmed he had been booked for the morning too, and would take her where she wanted to go. He had trouble understanding her accent, as it has been a lifetime since she had spoken her own language. The hotel was basic, but clean, and the food served for dinner made tears appear in her eyes as she remembered eating the same things in what seemed like another life. Herman had told her to call from the hotel, but she switched off her phone, not wanting to talk to anyone. Especially Herman.

Breakfast was strange now. Black bread, mixed fatty meats, and a bland cheese. But the coffee was good, much stronger than at home.

She felt chilly, so put on the long black coat that Herman had said she wouldn’t need. She loved him, because he was her son. But she wished she could have liked him more. She had liked Joe, little Joseph. But he had gone to Vietnam, and had never come home. Levi was never the same after that, even young Rachel couldn’t improve his mood. He used to walk to the park in Greenpoint, and sit crying on a bench. Now Levi was long gone, Rachel was in Maryland, and Herman never stopped nagging her. The cab was already there when she walked outside.

When the driver stopped at the place, she didn’t recognise it. Why would she? It was such a long time ago. He said he would wait as long as it took, and opened a book as she got out of the taxi. After ten minutes, she froze. This was it. The tracks and sleepers had gone, but she could still tell it had once been a railway line. That railway line. With no effort on her part, it all came flooding back.

They had told mama and papa it was ‘resettlement’. A short trip by train, they said. No personal things, and only one small item of luggage. The Kapos rounded them up, making sure they had the yellow stars on their clothes for all to see. Then they were marched through the town, with the local kids cat-calling, throwing garbage, and running their fingers across their thoats as they laughed. Some of them even spit on the long column of people as they shuffled along.

It wasn’t a train like Rosa had ever seen. Just empty trucks, with straw on the floor, one bucket in a corner, and too many people in each one. The short trip they had mentioned took longer than expected, with stops to cram in yet more people, until it was almost impossible to breathe. Rosa closed her eyes for a moment, trying to shut out the worst memories of that trip. Then the train stopped. Some inside already were dead, there were dogs barking outisde, and men shouting in a foreign language. She was fourteen, and old enough to understand that this was nothing at all like the promised resettlement.

There were woods behind the tracks, but up ahead was an iron gate, wire fences, rows of huts, and huge brick chimneys. As they walked in the direction of the gate, they were stopped and examined. Mama was sent one way, papa another. She was told to follow some older women and join the queue to the left.

That was the last time she ever saw either of them.

It was two years before the troops came and told them they were free. Two years during which Rosa had seen things. Unspeakable things. Two years where she had done things. Very bad things. Like stealing a quarter-slice of bread from an old lady who would die. Allowing the sickening attentions of a Lithuanian guard in return for three slices of sausage. Being examined intimately by doctors who were interested in her reproductive organs. It meant one more day of life. One more sunrise.

She told the soldier she had relatives in New York. He didn’t seem to believe her, but wrote it down anyway. Clutching at straws, she had used the name of the local shopkeeper, knowing he had left for America in thirty-five. Mama had mentioned he and his family had settled in New York. So she claimed to be the cousin of Israel Stern of Greenpoint. Even so, it took two long years. Sweden was first. Then more questions. Then England, with more questions, followed by a letter to Mr Stern. More camps, slightly better food, and a teenage girl who had grown strong in adversity.

She could never thank Mr Stern enough. He let her sleep on his couch, and got her a job with his daughter, working as a seamstress. That’s how she met her husband Levi, who was a tailor. She couldn’t say she had ever really loved him. But he gave her security, as well as three children.

Looking around the ground where the tracks had been, she chose two nice round stones. Rosa walked forward to the place here the gates had once stood, and placed one each side of the gap. In memory of mama and papa. Then she turned and walked back to the waiting taxi.

As they drove back to the hotel, she suddenly remembered something. It was what the Nazis had called them. Not people, never prisoners, not even just Jews.

Transport.

They had called them ‘Transport’.

In memory of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, liberated this day, in 1945. And of every other camp.

Lockdown Fiction: Gerald

This is a short story, in 675 words.
Something quick to read during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Gerald had always been a planner. He had planned ahead for a comfortable retirment, and made sure to pay his house off when he was still working. He had enough money to change his car every two years too, so no worries about something unreliable that kept breaking down.

The best technology went without saying. A 4-K televison that had a screen which would not look out of place in a small cinema, connected to the complete cable package that included every single viewing option. Then there was the sleek laptop, with the latest mobile phone amd tablet all in sync. His Internet connection was fibre-optic, and unlimited. He smiled at the fact that he hadn’t even asked how much that cost every month.

No need to stint himself on food either. Only the best ingredients, and finest locally-produced meat too. All prepared using the best professional utensils money could buy, on a double oven range cooker that cost as much as a small car.

However, there was one thing he had failed to plan for. He had nobody to share this luxury lifestyle with. Marriage to Jean had only lasted four years, and she had been paid off decades ago. Since then, Gerald had never met anyone else suitable. At least nobody that matched his standards. And he was not about to lower those.

So life alone seemed to be his only option. He decided he would manage very nicely, thank you.

Walking around in town was not something he liked to do. Too many beggars, for his liking. He had no truck with the so-called ‘homeless’. They should do as he had done; get a job, make a career, prepare for a comfortable retirement. Even though he might have had two hundred pounds in his wallet at any given time, he was never going to part with so much as a penny for those shirkers.

And there were those shabby-looking shoppers too. Shuffling around pushing worn-out shoppers-on-wheels, making a bee-line for the disgusting shops that sold everything for one pound, then having lunch in a local bakery, stuffing greasy pies into their chomping jowls. Many were tailed by a gang of noisy, dirty-looking children too. Small wonder they had no money, when they had no idea about family planning. And the tattos they were covered in no doubt cost more than the food they had just bought.

He crossed the street to avoid the queues outside the various fast-food establishments. The smell from those places made him retch, and the sight of cutomers emerging then cramming food into their mouths in public made him feel physically ill.

Honestly, there were times when Gerald wondered if he was even the same species as those people.

Instead of venturing into town, he began to shop online. Everything could be delivered whenever you wanted it to be, as long as you had the money to pay for it, and the Internet connection to order it.

It wasn’t long before Gerald had no need to go outside at all. A gardener came to take care of his small plot, and a window cleaner kept all the windows shiny. Both were paid by bank transfer, online of course. When he realised that he hadn’t used his car for four months, Gerald contacted the dealer and sold it back to them. It seemed pointless to bother to keep it, even though he took a substantial loss on the sale. They came to collect it. No need for him to drive all that way.

After a delightful meal of the finest venison in a casserole, accompanied by two glasses of Nuits Saint Georges, Gerald relaxed in his favourite leather armchair, cradling a tumbler of the very best single malt money could buy. He switched on the television, and scrolled through the available options. Settling on a potentially interesting legal drama, he raised the leg rest on the chair using the electronic control.

It didn’t even cross his mind that it was only one-thirty in the afternoon.

Lockdown Fiction: Stumpy

This is a short story, in 1,000 words.
Something quick to read during the lockdown.

Tony always hated the holdays. At least at school he had something to do. But the Easter break stretched out ahead of him, knowing his mum and stepdad would not be taking him anyhwere, and with no pocket money to do anyting, even to go and see a film. Mum still made him go out, so he didn’t disturb Cliff. He worked nights, and slept all day. She told him to go out and play. That was all very well, if you had someone to play with, and somewhere to go.

It was hard to make friends when they were never allowed to come round your house, and you were told you couldn’t go to theirs. Tony had tried walking across to the park, see if he could get in on a game of football, or just hang around with the others in the dip under the big tree. But they only nodded at him as he watched from the side. They all had bikes too, and he couldn’t have one because mum said she couldn’t afford it. So when they all jumped on their bikes and rode off laughing and shouting, all he could do was watch.

You can only sit on a bench for so long. Only walk along by the canal for so long. At least when the weather was bad, he could sit under one of the tunnels to stay dry. But trying to find something to do until four in the afternoon every day was really hard.

The old hospital was a good place to explore, though Tony had almost played out every opportunity that had to offer. Scheduled for demolition, and surrounded by a high fence, he could easily slip in under the locked gates when nobody was working on the site. Wandering around the huge empty rooms, switching plug sockets on and off, looking inside the piles of old filing cabinets to see if anything useful or valuable had been forgotten. A couple of times he had thrown things at the windows, just to hear the glass break.

That afternoon, he decided to go there again, as he knew the workmen wouldn’t be around over Easter. At the side entrance that he always used was a huge skip, always packed out with wrecked plasterboard, miles of electrical wiring, and splintered wood. As he walked past it to enter through the doorway marked ‘Do Not Enter’, he heard a whimpering sound. Between the back of he skip and the wall, he saw a small puppy. It was trembling, and backed away as he walked over and picked it up.

Hard to tell what breed it was, it had tan and white patches, and too-large floppy ears the size of sliced bread. Tony slipped the tiny dog inside his coat, and walked inside. One of the old wooden cabinets was perfect. He ripped the doors off, and laid it on the floor. Taking off his sweatshirt, he bundled it up and placed it in inside the cupboard to make a nice bed. The puppy licked his hand as he placed it onto the shirt, rolling over to show its soft belly.

What to call it? It had patches, but Patch was a boring name. And the big ears suggested Dumbo, but that was an elephant’s name. The small legs didn’t look big enough for the pup, almost like stumps. So Stumpy it was. Tony went back outside to the site works, and turned on a tap connected to a rubber hose. Using an end cap from some old guttering, he filled it with water and went back in. Stumpy was thirsty, and lapped up at least half of the water. Finding a roll of new insulating material dumped around the back, Tony made a better effort with the bed, lining it out nicely, and covering one half of the cupboard to create a little dark place for Stumpy to sleep in. As the little dog dropped off to sleep, he was curled up on Tony’s shirt, so he left it under the pup.

Walking through the door almost on the stroke of four, he was glad to hear mum say that it was ham egg and chips for tea. She plonked his plate down in front of him, then went upstairs to wake up Cliff. Tony wolfed down the eggs and over half the chips, then wrapped the rest up in a tea towel and quickly left the house before anyone asked where he was going.

Stumpy was whimpering again by the time he got back. He could just about hear it as he slipped under the gate. Although it was only very small, the pup ate the three slices of ham in record time, sniffing around looking for more. Tony tried him with one of the chips, and he ate that too. He decided to leave the rest of them at one end of Stumpy’s cupboard bed. If he was hungry later, they would fill him up. Making sure he topped up the dog’s water, he had a little play with him before settling him back in his bed for the night. The tiny teeth were like needles, as he chewed on Tony’s hand.

As he turned into his street on the way home, Tony noticed something sellotaped around the lamp-post at the end. The same thing was on all the lamp-posts along the street, standing out against the dull concrete pillars. He stopped and looked at the photo. It was Stumpy, unmistakable with his floppy ears, and colour patches. He read what it said underneath the photo.

LOST DOG
Henry. Four Months Old.
Lost this morning.
Please find him and bring him home.

There was a phone number underneath to ring if anyone had seen it.

Going straight up to his bedroom, Tony thought about the poster. He would never be allowed to have a dog at home, mum had said that. He kicked off his shoes, and picked up an old comic.

He would decide what to do tomorrow.

Lockdown Fiction: Clicky Baa

This is a ficional short story, in 750 words.
Something quick to read during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Chen Zhang started at our secondary school the same day as the rest of us. He was the only Chinese kid we had ever seen, except on telly. Everyone was looking at his sticky-up jet black hair, and the funny colour of his skin, which looked like he might have jaundice.

Everyone called him Chen, even the teachers. It took a long time before anyone found out that Chen was his surname, because of the way it was written the other way round. But by then it was too late, and he was stuck with Chen.

Bit like everyone calling me Butler, and thinking Kevin was my surname.

His dad had brought the family over from Hong Kong, to open a Chinese takeaway in the suburb of the city where we lived. We didn’t know anything about foreign food back then, other than Vesta Curry in a box, and hardly anyone ate that. When the takeaway opened up, it did a good trade, mainly because it was something different. And it was cheap too. It had benches to sit on to wait for your order, and a tropical fish tank mounted on the wall on brackets to look at. Funny red tassels hung off the ends of big banners with Chinese writing on them, and paper menus were stacked on the counter next to the till. They didn’t deliver of course.

Nobody delivered in those days, except milkmen, and the coalman.

Chen’s dad wisely stuck to an anglicised version of Chinese food, with a very limited menu. Prawn Balls, Sweet and Sour Pork, Chow Mein, and Special Fried Rice were the top-sellers. Things like Peking Ribs, Dumplings, and Duck Pancakes were unknown to us at the time. If we had a pancake it would only be on Pancake day, and usually have lemon juice and sugar on it. As for dumplings, they were only ever seen in a stew. Catching on fast, Chen’s dad also offered battered sausages, portions of chips, and even chicken pies. He had to cater for any family members who swore never to eat any ‘foreign muck’.

As you can imagine, that didn’t go down too well with the owner of the local fish and chip shop.

The boy did well at school. He was top in Maths, and really good at Geography and English too. Trouble was, he struggled with his accent. Living in a city called Middleham didn’t help, as he could only ever say ‘Mirri-ram’. Then when it came time for summer sports, Chen stared at his cricket bat as if it had arrived from outer space. The sports teacher tried to show him how to use it, and he shook his head. “I never see no Clicky Baa, sir”.

Well that was it. Brian Collier wasn’t the brightest coin in the purse. My dad would have called him ‘simple’. My mum might have been kinder, and come up with ‘slow’. You get the idea. But he was big and hefty, and handy with his fists. So when he doubled up with laughter at the way Chen said cricket bat, the rest of his mates hooted uproariously too. After that Chen got a new name. He got stuck with ‘Clicky Baa’. Brian didn’t know anything about China, but that didn’t stop him getting on board with a few more names for Chen.

Chinky Chonk. Slit Eyes, Yellow Man, Fu Manchu, Who Flung Dung, even The Jap. Brian hadn’t worked out that Japan and China were two different countries. He probably never did.

By the start of second year, Chen had got to the stage where he could no longer ignore the gang of idiots who followed him around all day insulting him with silly nicknames. One day in the main corridor, he turned and pushed Brian over, surprising the bigger boy with his unexpected anger and agility. Brian was up on his feet, fists bunched, ready to beat the living daylights out of the Chinese upstart. But as he lumbered forward, Chen swirled around like a ballet dancer, landing chops and kicks all over with such rapidity that Brian fell back onto some lockers and passed out unconscious.

One of his mates had to go and get Mrs Hawley, the teacher who did First Aid. Brian was sent home, covered in bruises. Nobody grassed, and they all said he had fallen over. That was all a long time before anyone had ever heard of Chinese Martial Arts, or had ever seen a Bruce Lee film. We didn’t even know what a VHS recorder was until years later.

But nobody ever bothered Chen again.

Photo Stories: A Thank You

As you will see, I have started a new fiction serial today. That doesn’t mean the photo-prompt stories are no more though.

I still have quite a few of your photos to get to yet, and they are all saved for future use.

I would like to thank everyone who sent some, and are still sending them.
The next round of those stories will be coming soon.