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Morning: It starts slowly, gradually. The sky turns a dark blue that fades into ever lighter shades till             finally, finally the first ray of sunlight appears. The air is still cold, as is the morning                        breeze that creates shivers down the spine. But there is light. It’s instantly warm where                it touches the skin and chases away the demons of the night. All is possible in that one        instant. No action taken, no consequences inflicted. Nothings determined. It’s luck; it’s                hope; it’s prosperity and mystery. It’s the beginning.

 

Day:         The heat of day is demanding. Where a single ray of sunlight creates pleasure, the entire               force of the sun brings giants to their knees. It’s too much, too powerful to take in at                            once and it burns. Hiding is the first instinct. Shut it all out; don’t let it touch and it’ll all           be over soon. At the right dosage it becomes bearable. Water, shade and the prospect of         the cool of night help. And suddenly it’s not too much any longer. No need to hide no
need for protection. Every bit of light is more beautiful than the last and it seems endless.The night seems so far away that maybe, just maybe this time it won’t come. That this time the light, the joy, the warmth and the beauty may stay forever.

 

Evening:  The evening is the highlight. It starts with the sunset. The wealth of colours it creates       in the sky is more than a million paintings could ever hold. The horizon in the east turns         purple while the few clouds in the west turn orange and red with a fiery white circle in                 the centre that is slowly swallowed by the ground. Everything is still warm and excited.            The complexity of feelings it creates is impossible to put into words. Life flourishes in the           fading light. It doesn’t stop when the sun is gone. Its light is replaced by a myriad of fires,              candles and lamps that extend the moment. A colourful dance that conquers the                          darkness. It builds up to a climax so invigorating, so transcendently beautiful that all is         forgotten and nothing matters but the here and now.

And then it stops.

Night:      It’s dark. The darkness crept up, while the fires were still bright and the dance was at its                climax. Unnoticed or ignored but inevitable. In an instant the whole world turns
around. It’s cold. All the warmth, all the excitement vanish. Just like that. What’s left is
emptiness. The memories of the feelings of the day just intensify the pain caused by their
loss. It’s silent. No more chatter, no more cheering or laughter just silence. All that
remains is the hope that there will be another day, And with it another brief period of joy
before an equally dark and long night.

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People still startle when they see us.  The reaction usually follows the same pattern.  They notice him and cannot help but stare.  Some are outright scared from the looks on their faces.  They look at him, then at me and quickly walk away.  Others are rather curious and linger for a while.  But as soon as they realise they’ve been staring at him, they blush and walk away.  A rare few only show disgust.  An old lady spat on the ground right in front of us once.  Didn’t say a single word; just uttered a retching sound to match her facial expression and spat.  A big bubbly pool of saliva mixed with yellow and green bits of snot.  She wiped off the remnants from the corner of her distorted mouth, gave us another hateful look and walked away.

Most people just ignore him, pretend they can’t see him.  They stare into the empty space between us, not really looking at either of us as they pass.  Their eyes react though; I always notice it.  They widen just for a fraction of a second before they put on the blinkers.  Stiff and ignorant they walk by; unnaturally and just that little bit too fast to be convincing.  I wonder if they take the blinkers off when they look at themselves in the mirror.

But that’s it.  That’s the pattern.  It always happens that way.  Startle – reaction – walk away.  Everyone just walks away.  As if his presence hurts them.  As if walking away makes him cease to exist, closes the hole that he left in their immaculate world.

I like being in his presence.  I can’t tell exactly why, but he has something soothing about him, to me at least.  It’s not like he is very entertaining; he doesn’t even talk. Actually, I don’t think he can.  That lipless, jagged slit across his face is a mouth, I think.  But there is no tongue inside.  Not that I know of anyway.  I haven’t directly looked into it, but I’ve caught a glimpse or two.  No tongue.  No teeth either.  Just whitish flesh, like scar tissue.

I could ask him of course.  Kind of an awkward question “Hey, do you happen to have a tongue?”, but what about our relationship isn’t awkward?

The day we met I startled myself.  I was one of the curious ones and moved on to stare.  Only I didn’t walk away.  He’s ugly alright, but I immediately felt calm, even comfortable when I saw him.  When I asked his name he only stared at me.  It was the only time I’ve ever seen him stare at someone.  Normally his eyes are aiming towards something on the ground.  Nothing in particular it seems to me.  Like he’s searching for something that should be there but isn’t.

They are fascinating his eyes, hypnotising.  I don’t know how long we stood there staring at each other.  Him at me and me into those big black pupils in his otherwise milky eyes.  They’re like a pit.  Not even a hint of what’s on the other side. Dark, mysterious and seemingly endless they devoured my gaze and shackled me instantly.  I simply got pulled in, that’s probably the best way to describe it.  Pulled in and wasn’t let go until he allowed me to leave again.

That’s how he came to his name: Black.  My name for him anyway. I bet he’s been called different names before.  None of them nice, obviously, but they never took the time to look at him to really see him for who he is.  Black is who he is.

He never left my side after this.  It’s ridiculous if you think about it. You meet someone one night in some small alley, in between garbage cans and old furniture.  You don’t have a conversation or any form of agreement; you just meet and naturally walk on together.  As if bound by an invisible and inexplicable link.

So here we are.  Walking on.

The way to work is short, but it used to be enough to make me nauseous.  At least in summer.  I took the night shift for a reason: I get to and from work in the darkness and I’m on my own while I’m there.  Not in summer though.  At 9 pm there is still light outside, people are everywhere.  The cafes and pubs along the way are cramped with chattering, laughing and shouting people.  Cars still jam the roads, honk and let their engines howl.  Even kids are around.  I hate kids.  They’re everywhere.  Running and shouting, bumping into me and crying.  As if all the noise wasn’t enough, they turn up the volume to make sure my head almost bursts with pain.  Going to work in summer had me press my hands onto my ears and on the verge of crying out in agony by the time I reached work.  More than once I arrived panting and shaking.  With tears in my eyes and sweat dripping from my forehead.

Now I don’t mind it any more.  Being outside still isn’t pleasant, but it’s bearable.  All the noise and the light is still there, but it’s dampened, dull.  He is like a painkiller.  No cure for my condition, but the symptoms are gone.  No nausea, no headaches, no  panic.  I suppose the fact that he attracts the looks now rather than me helps as well.

I still take the shortest way through the city, though.  No need to take any chances.  In and out as quickly as possible.

The way home, as usual, is okay.  At 6 in the morning the streets are generally deserted, except for a few isolated drones.  Most importantly there is silence.  If I’m quick enough I don’t even have to rely on him to numb the pain.  I hide from the rising sun in the shadows of the tallest buildings. Close my eyes in the gaps and face west wherever I can.  It’s so embedded in my system that I do it automatically.  The few sun-rays that breach my defences are blocked by him.  He’s my cover.

Even with him around, arriving home is a relief.  Shutting the door and turning the keys in every one of the three locks is the best moment of my day.  My souterrain apartment only let’s in indirect light.  It’s cool and quiet and I don’t have to walk past the neighbours to reach my door.  We make our way through dirty laundry and pizza cartons to sit down on the couch and turn on the TV.  I sit on the couch anyway.  He has his nest.  It’s a pile of dirty laundry, old styrofoam packaging and plastic bags, but he curls up in it as soon as we arrive home and goes to sleep.  A bit like a dog I can’t help but think.

I sleep through most of the day.  Helps me avoid most of the perils associated with light and other people.  As I get up in the afternoon I feel dizzy.  I go into the bathroom to have a drink of water and chase the aftermath of sleep away.  In the mirror I notice a small cold sore on my lower lip.  A feeling of unease starts to grow in my stomach.  I walk to the living room to be closer to him.

His nest is empty.  He never gets up until I enter the living room.  I walk over to the kitchen to check if he’s there.  Nothing.  The unease spreads from my stomach up my chest and into my throat.  I swallow to try and force it back down and start searching every room in our apartment.  Once, twice, a third time.  I turn over his nest, look behind the furniture and under all the rubble I left lying around.  He’s not here.

I brace myself and go out to look for him outside.  I check all the places we’ve been together.  Grocery store, post office, bank, chemists, pawn shop, but nothing.  My head hurts.  I can’t stay out here without him.  I return home to wait for him to come back.

Closing the door behind me helps a little.  At least my head stops throbbing.  The nausea stays though.  It presses against my throat.  I run to the bathroom to puke.  Except for a few dry coughs nothing happens.  I look in the mirror again.  The cold sore on my lip has grown.  It has a little yellow circle of pus in the middle now.  And it hurts.

At 9 pm I decide to walk to work.  He’s not there.  Not on the way, not in the office.  I feel restless.  I can’t stay at work while he is missing.  Back home I pace up and down in front of his nest. “He’ll be back, he’ll return”, I keep telling myself.

Sleeping should help, it always does.  I’ll wake up and all will be well again.

I wake up with scratches on both my arms.  His place is still empty.  In the bathroom I splash cold water on my face just to see that the cold sore is now the size of the nail of my thumb.  I run my hands through my hair in disbelief of all that is happening.  Strands of hair drop down in front of my face into the sink and onto the floor, lots.  More still sit in the palms of my hands.  Panic starts to cloud my mind. I can’t think straight.  I run to the place we met.

The alley almost looks the same as it did that night, but he’s nowhere to be seen.  Can’t bear the sun, I need to go home.

Shaking, I sit on the couch staring at the wall.  My mind races.  What happens now?  Every thought I have seems to vanish as soon as it enters my mind.  I can’t tell what time it is any more.  I must have been sitting here for hours.  A puke stain covers parts of the couch and the floor and the biting stench of old urine fills the room.  I reach for my pocket to take out my phone. My right hand is covered in bruises and scratches.  Hair sticks to the already formed crusts.  Hair from my head.  I take out my phone.  Eight messages.  All from work.  I listen to the last one.  I’m fired for not showing up four nights in a row.  Four nights.

I stumble towards the bathroom.  The front door is open.  I limp over to close it.  Lock it as I always do.  The relief doesn’t come.

Bloody shards cover the bathroom floor.  I stand over the sink and wash my face.  The sink looks like someone skinned a rat in there.   Exhausted I raise my head and look up into the broken mirror.  The cold sore has ruptured. It’s now an open wound.  Pus and blood oozing from it.  Patches of hair on my head are missing and the skin underneath is raw and bloody.  My face is completely pale.  I look into my eyes.  They’re red and sunken into their sockets.  I stare right at them.  Right into them.  As I keep staring I slowly sink into the depth of the blackest pupils I have ever seen.

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The world is black.

Alone in the dark, the dogs bark.  Lying in bed, my head full of the things that she said – wishing me dead – no sleep, I keep counting sheep, until the alarm bleeps and I throw off the sheets.

The night is the worst time.  When it’s light is the first time I find relief from the pain; it’s always the same.  But the light is a lie.  I’m waiting to die, curtains drawn against the dawn.  Work called again; I told them the pain remains.  I think they know but I still won’t go to the office.  She’ll be there, blonde hair, without a care.  So I hide indoors, safe and secure, sure she won’t find me.

The world is black.  The light is too bright; I took out the bulb in the hall.  I turned the television to the wall.  I don’t watch it now.  I don’t know how to stop the lies that try to enter my eyes.  Lies about red, green and blue – surely they knew that colour is not true?  Only filthy white, and the clean truth – the world is black.

The walls have changed.  I arranged a trip, went down to the town, and found a store.  Ten tins or more of pure black gloss.  Forget the cost, I had to have them.  Now my house is pure and true; no red or green or blue, no subtle hue, just honest black in every room.  The ceilings, too.  I’ve blacked out the floor, threw the red rugs out the door.  No colours any more.  They all turned black.

The black is true.  The small tattoo upon my arm still states the facts.  Her name in ink – you’d think I’d want to black it out, no doubt because her name still causes pain.  But no – my love for her is true as black.  She won’t be back, but still I care.  I leave it there, reminding me of better days before we parted ways.  She says it’s her, not me.  I see her mind at work.  I will not shirk my feelings.  That’s why I paint the ceilings with two coats of black – my future is not looking up.

I do not sleep.  It seems my dreams at night are full of light, memories of sun and faces, fun and places I will never see again.  Here I remain within my home of purest black.  I’ve lost track of how many days I’ve stayed within these four black walls.  The alarm clock calls but the numbers blur, they don’t concur.  I had to paint them out – the red digits had begun to shout.  There is no time here, only black.

They bang on the door, in patterns of four.  They soon go away.  I have nothing to say to these friends I once had.  They think I am mad.  They say that I’m sad, that I’ll find someone new.  They don’t have a clue, but I do.  My love is true – have you seen my tattoo?  The black never lies.  Still they try to come back.  I’ve locked all the doors and sealed every window.  Why would I go?  I already know that there’s nothing to do.  Maybe for you, but my life is done.  Nowhere to run.  She is gone.

Alone in the dark, the dogs bark.  Lying in bed, my head full of the things that she said, I smile instead.  I will soon be dead.  No more lies, no more pain.  No more sun, no more rain.  The darkness will come and all will be black.  No coming back, no need to pack.  My life is done.  I’m waiting for the end, my only true friend, and there will be no lies in his eyes.

Only black.

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Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson had a literary career that lasted the better part of twenty years.  His writing varied from essays, biographies, travel writing, poetry, plays, romances, short stories and novels.

He’s ranked among the 26 most translated authors in the world.  His most well known works include “Treasure Island” (1883) and the “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” (1886).

A disquieting tale of its time, it lays out the duality that’s perhaps inherent in all human beings.  Dr. Jekyll explores the evil side of human nature and how one is perceived by others.

Unsatisfied with the daily façade that he performs as a matter of course, Dr. Jekyll’s experimentation leads to chilling and heinous results in the form of Mr. Hyde.

The story has been illustrated in many plays and films but few match the quality of writing which makes the reader think about appearances versus reality.

Can good be completely separated from evil?  Is this kind of self-experimentation a valid scientific endeavour?

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She said the present was special, that it was much more than it looked.  To me it was special because it was given when she had no money.  Was it for my 18th or 21st?  I can’t quite remember.  However it was one of those significant times, a supposedly awe-inspiring life changing moment.

“Now you’re a man, start acting like one.  Finish that pint and I’ll get you another”.

All the significant times before were only truly great if you couldn’t remember them; if your mind had become blurred by drink and some gloriously stupid act had been performed.  Something to look back on, for old friends to warm themselves by in later, more stressful times.

I unwrapped the package and there it was an ordinary looking carriage clock.  I placed it on the table, wound it up and started the weight spinning and it began to tick comfortably.  It seemed such an odd present, I laughed looking at it shining, a piece of heaven in the gloom of my under-furnished, cold, damp room.

“It’s special” she said.

“I know it is, it must have cost you a fortune.”

“Some.”  She smiled and slowly caressed the back of my neck.  “It means wherever you are, I’ll be there watching over you.”  She bent her head toward mine.  Her hair swung around me and our noses touched.

I smiled, “Whenever I want to know the time I’ll think of you.”  We kissed, first slowly and then with more concentration.

She pulled away from me.  “But you must realise it’s very special, it’s not what it seems, it’s a piece of me I’m giving you.”

“What is?” I kept my reply brief so I could concentrate on her lips.

“You’re not listening to me”.  She pushed me away from her.  I made a playful grab for her shoulders, but she shrugged me off.  “No, you must listen.”  She stared coldly at me, almost through me.  My passion began to cool under her unblinking gaze.

“The clock is important.  It’s to prove my love for you will outlast time, that…that….that it’s eternal.”  Her face began to assume a messianic zeal as she uttered these words.  “You must promise me as I’ve promised you to never stop loving me, even if we never see each other again.”  As she grew warmer I began to notice the coldness of the room and feel the drafts that raced around it, the rain that had been falling for hours, beating a tattoo on the window.

“Of course I’ll always love you.”  I’m sure the uncertainty in my words was plain.  Love her always?  I couldn’t even be certain of my feelings at the moment.  I continued rather too quickly, “And I do wish you wouldn’t be so dramatic, we’ve tickets for that concert next week so you better still be here.”

She blanched “Why do you always have to be so flippant?”

“If I wasn’t, I’d have to take you seriously.”

“I am being serious, things never turn out as we think they should, or want.”

I stood up and walked to the curtains to gain time, to think and try and control my rising dread.  I turned to look at her sitting, almost kneeling, her face compressed with intensity.

“Look, I’m not a child, I know life has this knack of taking what you want.  But there’s no reason to be so resigned and helpless.  We do have some control, it’s not all set.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Oh for God’s sake don’t be so gloomy.”

“I’m not being gloomy just realistic.  Don’t you see,” her hands reached up and clasped mine, “this can’t last.”

“What can’t?  The weather?  My astounding run of good luck?  What can’t last?”  I asked desperately, “How do you know? Where’s your crystal ball?”  I gripped her more harshly than I meant pulling her wraith like body towards me.  “This is just all too strange.  You say you’ll love me forever when you’ve only known me for two months, but you’re convinced we haven’t got a future.  Why is it our conversations always end up sounding like a Gothic novel?”

I loosen my hold on her and walked to the door.  I took my coat from the hook and slipped it on.  Turning back to her I said, “Look, thanks for the present and everything,” She stood frozen, “but this is too intense for me.”  I paused expecting a storm of words.  I rubbed the back of my hand against my face, glanced at her and then turned back to the door, “I’m going out for a walk.  I won’t be long; I just need to clear my head.”  I opened the door and left her.

The rain lashed against my face, the cold needles of water anaesthetised it and felt good after the hothouse mood of my room.  My coat was becoming sodden, but still I didn’t turn for home.  A taxi slowed as it passed me to see if I needed a lift.  I grinned in the approximate direction of the driver, waved him away and skipped across the road in the wake of the car.  The light of the traffic pinned me to the darkness as it hissed by.  I wandered on aimlessly, not wanting to face her, knowing that any discussion or meeting of eyes would destroy my resolve.

The street lights went out and darkness took full possession of the night.  I finally turned for home as the rain became a drizzle.  I could see the light from my room, piercing the night and illuminating the railings of the park beyond the house.  I was calm, realistic and reasonable, I could feel the warmth of her arms around my neck and the depth of her eyes as our lips came together in a kiss.  I’d been hasty and we hadn’t really argued.  Couldn’t she see I’d been overwhelmed by some past horror, a memory of an unhappy birthday.  A cruel encounter with a woman who’d crushed my heart.  Can’t you see that shadow in my smile, that sadness which creeps upon me when I think I’m not being observed?  After all, a woman finds a sad past more romantic than a dozen red roses.

I climbed the stairs and opened the door to my room.  She wasn’t there.  At first I thought the brightness of the light was playing tricks with my eyes, surely she was there smiling where I’d left her, God knows how many hours ago.  I stared hard, willing her to reappear, but she didn’t.  No trace remained of her; the room had been scrubbed clean of her presence.  Only the slightest aroma of her perfume lingered in the pillow where I buried my head.  As I lay on the bed trying to think through all that had happened, my consciousness began to unravel to the metalliferous beat of the clock.  I turned my head and saw it on the table, the light glancing off its pendulum.

I did try and find her.  I went to her house the following day with flowers hidden behind my back, but her room was as free of her as mine was.  No one knew where she was or where she might have gone to.  I’d never been able to find out if she had any family, she had kept herself tightly wrapped and so I didn’t have any numbers to call.  I finished my search at the shop where she worked.  Yes she had been in, suitcase in hand to resign.  This reassured me, at least now I knew she hadn’t been abused by anyone else, or had done anything desperate.  The bus station was close to the shop and I presumed this was where she had seen her last view of the town, before lurching away in a haze of diesel to an unknown destination.

As the weeks grew into months and into years my thoughts of her became hallucinations, until our time together became irreconcilable with reality.  Finally all that preoccupied me when I did think of her was the ease with which she had cut the silken thread that binds us all to those we’ve loved.  All that remained of her was the clock; through all the joys and pain that life flung at me it continued to mark the passing of time.  Everywhere I travelled and stayed I always found a place for it.  I worked to its reassuring noise, made love in front of its unabashed face and grew old and content in its turning hands.  It remained constant and true, the only evidence to prove my past love had a kernel of reality.

And so my life continued with more happiness than sadness.  I married and children came giving my wife and I joy before they left to fight their own battles with time.  I was successful and our lifestyle became grand and comfortable but still I managed to find a place for the clock.  It had quickly lost its brightness but still I ended my day by winding life into it.

The reality of those few months had not lasted as long as the metallic sheen of the clock and I knew what I carried with me some 40 years after was the distillation of a dream.  It wasn’t the woman I was in love with, just the romantic idea I had created out of the pathetic remains.  The attraction lay in the pain, in the closeness of disaster that we all need to prove we’re still alive.  What I’d seen, or what I’d thought I’d seen in her was insane and dangerous: a maelstrom of destructive masochistic emotion; complete and total love for me.  It was the only time in my life that I’d stared into the abyss of unfettered passion.

It was my birthday, callers had been arriving all evening and I had been overwhelmed with socks and whiskey.  Grandchildren had run riot through the house while I guided everyone else around the glory of my garden.  Once the happy noise had been replaced by calm, my wife and I relaxed in the garden and the red inferno of the dying sun.  It had been a perfect day; I grasped her hand warmly and kissed it.  Finally we retreated from the inky darkness, my wife to warm the bed while I made my pilgrimage to wind the clock.

I knew something was wrong before I even turned the light on, something was missing, but I also had an unnerving feeling that something was present.  I hesitated in the doorway, my hand poised over the light switch.  I coughed nervously praying I wasn’t about to be assaulted by a burglar.  Nothing happened and the threat of imminent violence began to recede.  I laughed at my nervousness, I was too old to be frightened by the dark.

I flipped the switch and light chased the darkness into the corners of the room.  Were my eyes playing games?  Was that a figure I’d seen hunched over my desk in the instant between dark and illumination?  A sigh brushed my face and all the fears that I’d managed to dismiss came screaming back.  I couldn’t make my body move into or away from the room.  A curtain billowed behind the desk and I let out the breath I’d bitten down on.

Walking as calmly as possible I crossed the room, reached behind the curtain and closed the window to the cooling night air.  I smoothed out the curtains, turned back to face the room consciously slowing my breathing using the silence of the room as a counterbalance to the panic I’d felt.  Something was still unsettling me and then I realised it was the silence itself; the clock was no longer ticking.

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American author Ken Kesey thought himself as the link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s.  He is best known for his novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, published in 1962.

His motivation into writing this book came after he volunteered to be part of a secretive CIA-financed study that looked at the affects of psychoactive drugs, while working as a night aide in a veteran’s hospital.

Set almost entirely in an Oregon State mental hospital, patients and doctors alike are strictly ruled by the mostly cruel and repressive “Big Nurse” Ratched.

Patients are kept under control through uncompromising routine, brain-deadening medication and electroshock therapy threats.  That is…until McMurphy comes along and tries to undo everything Nurse Ratched has built up over the years.  Will the other patients such as Chief Bromden follow suit or are they forever condemned to be a ghost of their true selves?

It was made into a successful film in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson that won five Academy Awards.  Even though Kesey was initially involved in creating the film, he soon left its production after varying disagreements.

What did you think of the characters McMurphy, Nurse Ratched and Chief Bromden?  Did any of the patients have a chance?  Has this put a different slant on mental hospitals and the experiences of patients?

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Robin’s father, Bob, walked behind carrying even more tackle.  The two boys picked spots next to each other so they could at least chat if the fish were scarce, but Bob walked another fifty yards down the river to ensure he got some peace and relaxation, out of sight from the two lads.

To Bob fishing was more than a hunter’s quest, although deep bodied bream, plump roach, chub and perch would be his quarry.

 

For him it was more an escape from the monotony of the mundane worlds he inhabited – the factory, with its repetitive noises, smoke belching chimneys, clocking on and off, swarf and sawdust; and his depressing home, grey bricks and prison-like walls shared with a woman he no longer loved. It was his chance to forget everything apart from the fresh air and his surroundings.

No bills, no repairs, no hassle and no worries – well just for the day.  Instead, he saw the flowing river meandering through the landscape, bull rushes pointing their fingers to the sky, the mill now idle in its retirement years, the golden fields of maturing wheat and, with luck, a kingfisher – a streak of orange and turquoise flashing by.  Once he had seen a kingfisher perched on the branch of a nearby tree spending the next half an hour dipping into the water and emerging with small fish in its bill.  Total joy.

Robin always went fishing with his father but Jonathan, his friend, only went when cajoled by Robin.  He didn’t like the inactivity, pointlessly sitting for hours watching a float that hardly twitched, but he felt obliged every now and then to accompany Robin who, after all, was his best friend.

“Do you want me to help you set up?” Robin asked.

“Yes please.”  Jonathan’s lack of piscatorial experience meant he was only too glad for Robin to set up his rod and get him started.

Whilst Robin had been fishing many times before, he had only caught small fish, five or six inches long.  He desperately wanted to catch fish the size his father caught and so took his endeavours very seriously.  He was determined that today would bring his record fish, but he felt that every time he approached the water’s edge.

The two pals had been fishing for twenty minutes when Robin’s float started to move.  Initially, the float raised itself an inch out of the water, typical of a bream bite, then slowly moved downstream gradually submerging.  When it had totally disappeared, Robin struck and felt the immediate tension in the fishing line.

“I’ve got one,” Robin shouted to Jonathan, his rod bending under the pressure.

Jonathan put his rod down and went to see what was happening.  It took five minutes before Robin brought his bream to the surface and Jonathan helped him land it by scooping the fish up in the landing net.

“Wow, that’s the biggest fish I’ve ever caught.”  A look of delight was across Robin’s face.

“I must weigh it.”

The fish came in at three pounds exactly, certainly Robin’s best fish by far.  After he took the hook out of the bream’s mouth he rushed along the bank, the record fish in the landing net, to show his father.

“Well done”, Bob said, “go and catch another half dozen now.”

Robin returned to his spot and put the bream in his keep-net.  With a look of determination on his face he was sure that this day would be the best ever day’s fishing in his life.  He baited his hook again and cast out into the river.  His eyes were firmly concentrated on the float, waiting to detect the slightest movement.  On the other hand, Jonathan, who hadn’t had a bite, started to think of other things.

“I’ve got another,” Robin shouted and a second bream, although smaller than the first, found its way into the net.

After another half an hour Jonathan, totally bored by now, decided to go for a walk along the river bank.  At least walking would be active, something to make his heart beat faster, rather than sitting motionless on his fishing basket like a bronze statue.  He told Robin and headed off, upstream.

After half a mile he saw two figures walking towards him.  As he got closer he saw it was two girls of about sixteen or seventeen talking and laughing together.  They stopped abruptly when they saw Jonathan.

“Not seen you in these parts before,” one of the girls said.

“No, that’s because I’ve not been here before, I’m fishing with a friend.”

Jonathan pointed in the general direction of where Robin was fishing.

“Don’t look like you’re fishing to me.” The two girls giggled.

“Just stretching my legs.”

“So you’re with a friend,” the second girl said.

“Yes, would you like to meet him?”

“That might be fun.”

Jonathan, who had had a number of girlfriends, was good at spotting opportunities and he felt this chance encounter presented one.

“Come on then, I’ll introduce you.  I’m Jonathan by the way and my friend is Robin.  What are your names?”

‘I’m Sophie,” the first girl said, “and this is Nancy.”

Jonathan and the two girls walked back to where Robin was still in the depth of concentration.

“Robin, I’d like you to meet Sophie and Nancy.”

Robin turned around, shocked to see Jonathan with the two teenagers.

“Oh, hello,” he said, turning back to fix his eyes on the float.

Jonathan eyed up the two girls, who were both attractive in their own ways.  Sophie was slightly the smaller of the two, with wild, blond hair.  She had a fresh face, the sort you see on farmer’s daughters, bordering on cheekiness.  She had a good figure too with large breasts, which Jonathan could make out beneath her tight-fitting blouse.  Nancy, on the other hand was quite a thin girl and her baggy jumper hid any hint of her form, but she had a beautiful face and short, jet black hair.  Jonathan had to make a choice.

After a minute of further conversation, he held his hand out to Sophie and said, “let’s go for a walk.”

Sophie obliged, putting her hand in his and they started up the river bank.  Soon they were out of sight.

Nancy, sat near to Robin and watched his back for a few minutes.

“You come here often,” she said.

“Um, quite often,” he replied, slightly turning his head towards Nancy, but then refocusing on the float, just as it started to disappear again under the water.  He struck again and this time caught a roach.  He took the hook out, put the fish in his keep-net, re-baited and cast out again, not for a minute looking at Nancy.

“Where you from?”

“Birmingham,” Robin replied with little enthusiasm, turning even less than before.

“What else do like doing besides fishing?”

Robin thought for a minute.

“I like football,” he said, not even bothering to turn his head at all this time.

“Nothing else?”

“Sport in general,” he said after a pause.

Robin, unlike Jonathan, was inexperienced with girls, although he had had the occasional snog and a feel of a breast every now and then, but only on top of clothes.  Because his mind was so bent on catching more fish, he didn’t see the potential of the situation.  Here was an attractive girl, trying to engage him in conversation, even being slightly suggestive, yet he failed to pick up the signals.  Had it been a day when the fish hadn’t been biting, it might have been different, but days like this were few and far between and, after all, he’d caught his record fish.  This spurred him on and he had an even greater desire to catch more.

The float submerged again, this time a small perch.  Robin even forgot Nancy was there.  A hour later, Sophie and Jonathan returned.  After a few minutes the two girls went on their way and Jonathan returned to his spot on the river.  He put a maggot on his hook and cast out, not really bothered if he had a bite or not.  Time passed quickly for Robin and slowly for Jonathan, but soon it was late afternoon.  Robin had continued his catches and Jonathan passed time, thinking of other things.  Bob came along and said it was time to pack up and go home.  He watched eagerly as Robin emptied the fish from his keep-net back into the water.

“Well done, son,” he said smiling, “bad luck Jonathan, I’m sure you’ll catch something next time you come.”

Robin and Jonathan sat in the back of the car together on the way home.  Robin was full of himself and couldn’t stop talking about the fishing.

“Olney is my favourite fishing spot,” he said, “and I must have caught over thirty fish.  And, of course, my biggest was 3 pounds.”

Jonathan thought for a minute.

“I can beat that,” he said.

Robin looked puzzled, knowing full well that Jonathan had not lifted a fish from the river.

“My biggest catch was about seven and a half stones.”

Feel free to read the reviews below or leave your own review and rating.

British author Jenn Ashworth has written three novels, various short stories and also works on freelance story-telling and creative writing projects.

In 2011 she was deemed as one of the UK’s 12 best new novelists.

“A Kind of Intimacy” was her first book and won the 2010 Betty Trask Award.

Her other two books include “Cold Light” and “The Friday Gospels”.  Her novels have been published in the US and translated into French, German and Italian.

 

 

Annie is more than a little overweight, lonely and hoping for a more meaningful future.  A self-help book addict, she moves into a new home and sets out to be “neighbourly”, particularly with the man next door.

Wishing to put her violent past and less than conventional sexual exploits behind her, Annie does everything in her power for a new image and life, oblivious to any wrongdoing.

A darkly comic story that results in a bloody climax.

From the way the story is told do you think there’s something not quite right about Annie?   Has she learned anything from her experiences?

Average Rating of All Readers

Writers TogetherBased in:

London, United Kingdom

Brief Description:

Are you looking for a supportive, serious writers’ group in London?  WRITERS TOGETHER meet alternate Tuesday evenings, in Canford Road, SW11.  We provide critical feedback for prose writers who aim to be published commercially.  We look for talent and potential, ability to give/take/benefit from honest criticism, and commitment to getting published.  Numbers are limited.

Venue, Times and Frequency of Meetings:

We meet in my home in Canford Road SW11 on alternate Tuesday evenings.

First Established and a Brief History:

We started in 2005 after a previous group (founded in 1959) was wound up by its elderly host, and have met fortnightly ever since.

More About Writers Together:

We run the group democratically.  Between 7:30 and 10:00, we divide time into half-hour spots so that up to five can read and hear comments from each listener in turn, plus comeback and further discussion if time allows.  The evening ends with chat over a drink.  We also sometimes help each other one-to-one when other pressures permit.  One of us and some former members have had novels commercially published.

We keep a waiting list and from time to time invite a guest to attend for up to four meetings with no obligation.  If (s)he would then like to join, we discuss at our next meeting and let him/her know.  As well as writing ability/potential and commitment to getting published, we look for ability to give, take and benefit from honest but constructive criticism.  We also consider group dynamics.

We’re happy to hear any prose work aimed at publication and suggest a reading time no longer than 12-15 minutes to leave good time for comments and discussion within your half-hour.  We contribute £1 each per meeting towards refreshments and have a no smoking policy.

Top Tips for Other Groups:

Let each person give uninterrupted feedback before general discussion.

Give honest feedback, and be grateful for it, but respect the writer’s efforts and your fellow critics’ opinions.  Empathise with the writer’s intention; try to say where it is and isn’t achieved.

Contact Information:

Email Bobbie at: writers.together.london@gmail.com

Telelphone is 020 7228 8228 but emails much preferred.

Day 1

“What’s going on?  What’s all that commotion?”

“Don’t get so close to the window, they might see you.”

“Is that a helicopter?”

“Jon, please come away from the window.”

“It’s ok love, we’re safe up here.  The barrier they’ve thrown up across the road is pretty impressive.”

 

“I know, you said.  I still don’t feel safe.  We could have left you know.”

“Look, we’ve discussed this.  Where would we’ve gone?  Nowhere is any safer than anywhere else.  I’d rather be here, at home, than in one of those bloody refuge camps that they’ve set up.  You’ve seen them on the telly, awful, queuing for everything.”

“I know we talked about it and we agreed to stay here, but I feel so exposed.  I know there’s barriers and soldiers, but that didn’t stop it all getting out of hand in London.”

“Come on, they weren’t ready for it when it happened, they weren’t prepared.  Now the authorities know what’s likely to go on they’re prepared.”

“Really?  You’re pretty naive sometimes.”

“Let’s just say I’m more optimistic.  Hold on, did you hear that?  That popping sound, is that gunfire?  Turn on the TV.”

“Back now to those reports of a more serious incident in Central London.  The Police have confirmed that the death toll has now risen to 56.  Justin what have the police been saying?”

“Well Hugh the situation is fairly chaotic here, I don’t if you’re seeing these pictures, but it seems as if the barriers thrown up by the police are being tested severely in at least two….”

“Why did you turn it off?”

“I don’t care what’s happening in London.  What frequency is the local radio station?”

“Why would I know that?  I only listen to Radio 4.  Maybe there’s something on the web.”

“You know we’ve not been able to get a connection for the last day or so.”

“Sorry, I forgot.  I might take another wander down the hill.  Don’t pull that face, it’s not scary.  Why don’t you come with me?  You’ve not been out of the house since all this started.”

“I don’t feel safe out there.”

“Look, nothing’s going to happen to us.  This will last another couple of days, maybe a week, and once they’re back in control it will be like nothing happened.  You should try and be a little more positive.  It’s exciting, boring normality has gone and anything could happen.”

“You just said it can’t last and nothing is going to happen!  If you’re going to be delusional at least try and get your story straight.  And don’t even think about calling all those dead people in London nothing.  You don’t seem to understand what’s going on, everything is going to be different.”

“That’s what I’m saying, our boring regular lives have been blow away and something new is happening.”

“Different, but not better.”

“Come on, it’s going to be ok, you’ll see.  Come on, stop crying, I promise nothing’s going to happen to us.  How could anything happen to such beautiful people, the world will not let such style and grace be snuffed out.”

“For God’s sake.”

“It worked though, you’re smiling again.”

“I’m not smiling, I’m fighting the urge to kill you.”

“Looked like a smile to me.  Let’s get some fresh air.  Maybe Rob and Jenny might want a walk too?”

“Okay, but do we have to drag Mork and Mindy along?”

“Now, now my dear put the tiger back in its cage.  They’re good people.”

“They’re dull and dress the same.”

“No they don’t.  We both know the real reason they bug you is that Jenny has her eye on me.”

“As I said delusional.”

“Who?  Me or her?”

“She doesn’t fancy you, I’m the only one with that affliction.”

“While I’m thinking of it did you check to see if that camping stuff is in the loft?”

“You were the last one to use it, don’t you remember, when you were up in Scotland about a year ago.  I’ve not touched anything since then.  I thought you said this mess wouldn’t last?”

 “I don’t think it will, but there’s nothing wrong with being prepared.  I’m pretty certain I still have that wind-up stuff, the torch and radio.  You remember the stuff you were ribbing me about.  I’ve even got that little solar panel charger.”

“You really are enjoying this aren’t you?”

“It is something different at least, can’t you feel the butterflies in your stomach.  It’s like when you were a kid, playing hide and seek, that uncertainty about what’s going to happen.  That tingling sense of hysteria, an edgy uncertainty, that’s pretty exhilarating.”

“Yes, but that was hide and seek.  The worse that could happen then was being found, now it’s dangerous and you don’t seem to understand that.”

 

Day 2

“What happened?  Jon what happened?”

“Hold on, I need to…. give me a moment to….get..”

“Do you want a drink of water?  You’re looking a bit pale.”

“Water would be good.”

“What’s on your hand?  Is that blood?”

“Is it?  I must have… I mean I fell over in the courtyard.”

“Sit down.  Here wrap this round your hand while I get a plaster.  What’s happening, why were you running?  Jon tell me, tell me what’s happening.”

“Where’s the water?”

“Stop changing the subject.  It’s started happening here hasn’t it? All that stuff going on in the south, it’s finally reached us hasn’t it?  Tell me!”

“Ok!  Ok, just give me a moment.”

“God you’re irritating.  Hold out your hand I need to put a plaster on the cut.  Jesus, what did you fall on?”

“Some glass I think, a window had shattered in one of the shops.”

“Shattered.  By what?”

“A bullet, I think.”

“Jon, please just tell me what’s going on?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t know.  There was so much smoke, noise, shouting, it was chaos.”

“O God, God.  Have they broken through?”

“I really couldn’t tell.  I don’t think so.  They were planning to call up some helicopters, but no one seemed to know what was going on.  Who’s that?”

“It’s probably Rob and Jenny, I said you were going down the hill to see what was happening.”

“Hello, is there anyone there?”

“We’re in the kitchen Rob, come on through.  Is Jenny with you? “

“No, she’s downstairs trying to pick up information from the radio.  It’s hard to know what’s really happening now the television is dead.  What’s it like down on the line Jon?”

“I was just saying, I don’t really know, but it’s not good.  I think we should maybe start blocking off the entrances.”

“No, really?  You think it’s that serious.”

“Shit Jonny, I told you we should have left last week.”

“Left to go where?  We only know people down south and fuck knows what’s going on there now.”

“We could have headed north?”

“Don’t you remember all the traffic, panic and fighting, all that stuff they were reporting on?”

“Look guys we’re here now and arguing won’t change that.”

“Thank you Doctor Phil”

“Jonny!”

“Sorry Rob, I didn’t mean that.  I’m a little stressed.”

“It’s fine, considering what’s going on I’m surprised we’re all still sane.”

“Hi.  I just let myself in, the door was open.”

“Hey Babe!”

“Jenny, Jon.”

“We’re just discussing the situation.”

“Yes, well I’m not sure that I’m the bringer of glad tidings.  You might want to turn on the radio.  Switch it to the shortwave, up a bit, there you go.”

“This is an emergency broadcast.  The government is abandoning London and all essential personnel will be transferred to Scotland.  A state of martial law is now in operation and the armed forces have assumed control in all counties south of Oxfordshire.  A curfew is in place between 8 in the evening and 8 in the morning.  Only those with essential business should be out at these times.  It is also likely that power and water supplies could be affected across much of England, particularly in those counties south of Oxfordshire.  For more information please retune to local radio stations.”

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