Category Archives: Short Story

Blue Blanket

originally titled ‘Mwanamke na Blanketi Bluu’ –
– Woman with Blue Blanket

Resignation – that’s her expression; maybe some anger or bitterness, as she’s every cause to be so.

Woman with Blue Blanket

     Walk to the aid camp, Siti. Take your family away from this dreadful place. Soldiers raiding at night. Thieves who break in to steal anything you own that they can sell. Paying for water – with what I ask? You don’t want to sell your body for a ration of grain, like some other women do, do you? And your children are getting more sickly every day. This is a dirty place.

The aid camp will be clean. The water is clean. You will be able to rest at nights, instead of, like me, sitting awake with an old chair leg to hit anyone who breaks in. Oh, I know you do – I can see through the cracks in the walls between our houses. You have a hoe as well. Me, I’ve got my dead husband’s shovel, hidden under my mattress on the floor. You should put that hoe where no-one can see it, or they’ll come after that as well.

But tonight, you take your children and you start walking. Follow the stars of the Jackal. Hide during day-time. Climb over the hills of the Dead Forest and you’ll see the aid camp from the crest of the mountain ridge. Take some water with you, and these – these flat-cakes I’ve made for you all. No, I can’t come with you – my foot is too swollen to walk. Besides, there is only me. You have two beautiful children who need to get away from here. Go tonight. I’ll bring you a spare blanket to tie things into. I’ll come after the sun goes down. Until then, goodbye, my sister.

     So, Siti walked; she slipped out of the battered and burned out village, heading away from the soldiers who camped or squatted in houses at the edge of town. This detour meant she had to circle wide around the village to be heading in the right direction. There was no moon, but the starlit sky readily showed her the guiding stars. Her boy of ten years walked beside her, carrying the baby sister in a sling across his back, and a bag of small things important to little boys in one hand. His Mama had at first scolded him for wanting toys, but he had insisted there were no toys, only “helpful things, Mama”. So she did not ask Issa again.

On her back was the bulk of the blanket slung over her shoulder. In it was a water skin, a small bag of strips of dried goat meat, a crinkled and bent tea tin, inside which were a dozen flat-cakes. There was a spare blanket – blue, and small, for the children to share. Siti had found some soft wire – she would use it to tie the corners of blankets to the skeleton of a tree to make shade for the day. How glad Siti was that her good friend had given her a blanket the colour of the desert – it would help them in hiding if soldiers on patrol drove past on the roadway. Though she stayed an hour’s walk from the road, it also headed in the direction she wanted – no, needed to travel.

After three days, her son was becoming weary. His eyes were beginning to lose their sparkle of mischief and good health. He began having to put baby sister down and rush off to pass a motion and bury it – and in a hurry too. He had what the white nurse had called ‘diarrhea’, and she knew as yet, there was nothing to be done. Issa was ashamed to talk to his Mama about what his body was doing to him.

By the ninth day, although she had been rationing the water carefully, Siti realised she would have to do without more than one small drink a day. The flat-cakes and goat meat were still in good supply, so careful had she been to make sure Issa had a fair share but no more. But she became worried when she found green and black marks on the flat-cakes one day. After eating one each, and baby vomiting it a few hours later, Siti knew they would have to be discarded. She buried them, and they moved on after bundling their meagre belongings into the blanket slings. She did not see Issa dig up the flat-cakes and hide them in his bag.

Travelling at night, and resting by day, Siti often fell to sleep in the heat and fatigue. One day she woke to find Issa was missing. She gazed towards the roadway. In the distance, a convoy of green army trucks was kicking up a storm of dust as they roared away from the hills, back towards her village. She lay back against the trunk of their sheltering tree, and wondered if it would be wise to go search for her Issa. Then he was beside her, coming from a side direction. His face was beaming with delight.

“Look, Mama, I have bought us some more water!” and he showed her a shiny narrow oblong tin, with a screw-cap on the top corner. He unscrewed the cap, and poured a cupful into the half-gourd cup she carried. “The soldiers on the road. They are not bad men like in the village. They are white men, from another country. I sold them something for the water.”

“And what did you have to sell, my young Issa?”

“The silver frame of Grandfather’s photograph. The picture of him in the army. The white soldier liked it, and said it would pay for a can of water. Did I do right, Mama?”

“Yes, Issa. That frame would have bought ten cans of water, but right now we did only need one. You did well Mr Ten Years,” and Siti smiled at him.

That night they resumed their march. They reached the foot of the Dead Forest hills by sunrise. Siti decided to climb her way up the hills, to shelter from view in the gullies and clefts of the ridge. This meant they could stay nearer the road, which at the top of the ridge crossed into a country where the bad men from her village would not be allowed to cross. Then she could go to the aid camp.

They ate goat meat strips – supply of which was greatly reduced. They were down to only two a day each. But they had water. Issa still had flat-cakes. Surreptitiously he ate one and another, so he could refuse one strip of dried meat and not be hungry.

Siti used small boulders to anchor corners of the blanket on the gully sides, and they settled for the day’s rest. Issa’s  stomach grumbled and growled.

“See, Issa, you should have had another strip of goat. You are hungry now!”

“No, Mama, I am alright. Thank you.”

As Siti and baby dozed, he felt stomach pangs of pain, so hurtful they made him draw his knees up to his chest to try to make some comfort. Suddenly he knew he had to get away from their little shelter, as his bowels were churning like aunty’s old cake mixer. He ran up the gully’s side, away from the family, away from the road they were walking parallel to. He quickly found a scoop-shaped piece old tree branch, and started to make a hollow. He squatted, and relieved himself – although his stomach still shot pains through him. He stayed crouching for a long while, as the black mess kept coming. Eventually it stopped. He was able to reach some dry grasses to clean himself. Then he covered over his signs, and threw away the scoop he’d used. He weakly walked further from the place, wanting to gather handfuls of dusty sand to rub over his hands to clean them more.

As he walked, rubbing clean his hands, his head spinning with illness, he did not see where his feet were taking him. He screamed in fright as he dropped over the edge of a split in the ground, deep into a cleft. His neck snapped as he bounced against the sides. Issa died before he hit the bottom of the shaft.

Siti awoke with a start, unsure of what had woken her. There was baby, curled up against her, sucking on a corner of the blanket. Her Issa was … not around. She stood, and called his name. Her voice echoed through the gully. She saw footsteps imprinted in the sand and dirt, so she followed them. She came to the place at which he’d relieved himself. Her nose wrinkled at the smell of sickness he’d not been able to completely cover. Siti used her hands to throw more dirt over his place.

Now his trail led her further on. She could see where he’d scooped up handfuls of dust. She could see his footsteps … and the edge of a small chasm–where they stopped. With her heart pounding inside, Siti called his name softly as she carefully approached the edge, Peering down, she saw him – and knew he was dead.

She could not stay to give Issa a proper mourning. Siti said her prayer to the gods as she lugged dead branches and dropped them to cover his body. They would perhaps hamper any jackal or hyena trying to tear his body into mouthfuls. She dragged small bushes out of the ground, and threw them down as well. These she hoped would stop bad soldiers from seeing his body, and going to it to check his pockets and strip his clothes. She picked up a few sticks, and swept away as many signs of her work as she could. The ground looked rough, but breezes would soften it. She swept away their footprints as she returned to the baby.

Exhausted as Siti was after such dreadful work in such dreadful heat, she took two cups of water, knowing her Issa would expect them to now drink his share. She poured a third cup for baby. As she screwed back the cap, she felt the can was much lighter than it should be. She shook it. It sloshed more than usual. Siti unscrewed the lid again, and adjusting the angle to let in sunlight and still allow herself to see. She found the can was now only a third full. How?

A glance at the place where the can had been sitting told her. The can’s seal at the bottom had been leaking for who knew how long. The ground on which it had been sitting was soaked by its constant dribble. At this point, Siti became as close to weeping as ever she had. But Siti was resolute. Having begun the trek to find aid, she would not insult her Issa by giving up.

She looked through his little bag. There were the paper wrapped flat-cakes! Aowe! He had been eating the dirty food to let the good food last! Now the tears came, sliding down her cheeks, as she gasped for breath, trying to smother her sounds to avoid upsetting the baby girl.
Looking again into the bag she found he had prepared well to help her. Three small value coins – not worth a lot, but they would buy something. Her enamel brooch. Ordinarily Siti would be angry to discover he had taken it. But when the bad soldiers had come to their poor house and ransacked it for furniture and anything of value, Issa must have snatched out the brooch before they could find it and take her small yawa wood box.

Now paper, folded and creased together. The edges had become roughened a little, bouncing around in the bag. Siti unfolded them. Issa, so young, so sensible for his years. He had found their official papers, and had been carrying her marriage registration with her birth-date on it, his own birth registration, his baby sister’s; the papers that showed Siti owned their house with no debt. And ,so useful right at this moment, she found a half packet of “chew gum” he had been thrown by one of the bad men in the village.

Siti knew she could use it. After chewing it until it was sticky and pliable, she stuck it onto the end of a small stick, propped the water can so the leaky spot was not in the water but above it and waited a while as the drops ran from the hole. She used the stick to push the gum into the can and cover the leak. She was not sure whether the water would lift the gum, but she had to try. So she would not pull away the carefully placed gum when she pulled away the stick, she reached in with her finger tips and snapped the stick off, just as far below the lid as she could.  With the lid screwed back on, she propped it up on a branch over head, and watched it for a while – long enough to see she had successfully mended it.

Siti packed up their shelter, and began climbing the mountains, letting herself head closer to the roadway – which would lead her to the border. Now having to carry baby as well as their bundle of belongings, Siti found it hard going. But, for her Issa’s spirit, she did not give up. She was determined to be at the border by sunrise.

At the aid camp, baby was put into a hospital tent, on a liquid drip feed. She, Mama, was examined and declared healthy enough to be allowed to stay at her baby’s side. The aid camp brought around two meals every day. In the morning, a porridge, with added fruits Siti did not know, but they tasted good. As the dusk gathered, the second meal – a bowl of vegetable and grain stew, with fresh flat-bread.

And all through the day, anyone could go to the tent where the aid workers distributed drinks. Water – never rationed. Milk for children – Issa would have enjoyed that. Hot tea, with lemon, sugar or milk – whichever one wished for. She would carry her tea back to baby’s tent, and quietly sit outside it with her children’s blue blanket as a shawl, gazing back at the Dead Forest ranges. Siti would think of her Issa, and how close he had come to this place of safety, how much he had done without her knowing.

Siti would let herself feel angry, how her home nation had let down its people so badly.

Although the original title is Swahili, this story was in no way written to reflect badly on any particular African nation or its problems. Refugee awareness was of the time — if not of the action.
The photograph credits will be attributed as soon as I recover the data. At the moment, I believe it was captured by a National Geographic artist/reporter

This post was created from a story written in 2011, as the ‘B’ exercise in my self-set blogging challenge – ABC for 2018. Comments, RePosts, PingBacks to your own ‘B’ post are all welcome. Thank you

© Lynne R McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ, 2011

Break In

They stood on the front porch, stymied and stupified. Dylon had no key to the front door, and Linda hadn’t brought her key. She’d assumed Dylan would have his with his car key. No.

The spare key lock-box was empty. That meant Adele had taken it, either into her room or – as her car was nowhere to be seen – out with her.

“Let’s call Adele,” said Linda.

Dylan wouldn’t hear of it. No way was his daughter going to learn he’d forgotten to take his key with him.

“We’ll go to the back.”

Linda stretched on tiptoe to reach over the gate to unlatch it.

“I can get a spare key from the garage,” Dylan said. He went through his pockets as he approached the garage door. “Shit. I haven’t got the garage key either.”

Linda checked the doors, just in case they’d left one unlocked. No such luck.

Dylan steamed, Linda fumed…who each was blaming, neither would ever say.

Dylan examined each door…the sliding doors to the lounge and the bedroom were tamper ptoof, as was the wooden door to the laundry.

But…the laundry window?

Dylan turned the screen locks and removed the screen, leaning it against the wall. He didn’t for a minute believe it would, but he tried lifting the sliding window…and it slipped up and out easily.

So, who was to go in through it? Dylan knew he was too large and, at 71 a little too limited.

“I can do it,” Linda said. “I just need something to step up on.”

Thank heavens for absent-minded handyman husbands – he’d left two saw horses outside. Dylan placed one under the window – sort of. One foot was higher than the other three, and as the wall planter for their herbs was right below the window there was quite a space between the saw horse and the sill. Which was at Linda’s bust height.

Now, Linda had her own structural problems, neither age-related, even though she was 65 years old. One hip joint had been replaced, botched, and replaced again, leaving her with the leg an inch shorter than its mate, and limited movement. She had had surgery on the other leg to excise melanoma from the groin, so big a mass and so entwined around the tendons and arteries the surgeon had needed to scrape the cancer from the tendon – leaving even less movement possible.

But, of the two, Linda was the only one who could fit through the window.

She needed a boost from Dylan, but made it to stand on the saw horse. Now, how to pass through the window, now looking much smaller.

“Go through on hands and knees,” Dylan suggested.

Linda couldn’t get a knee up to the sill. “No, I’ll do it this way.”

“Perhaps I’d better try.”

“No, I can do it'” She shuffled herself around on the saw horse, until she had her back to the wall. With her hands behind her on the sill, and one foot on the garden tap, she boosted herself up into the window frame. Not comfortable when it’s an aluminium frame, with a slot-and-groove track for a sliding window pane!

She lifted a cheek so the grooved track fitted more comfortably. Only, now she was facing sideways, but still with both legs hanging off the sill. The leg closest to the window was the least useful leg. Try as she did, the bloody leg would not bend close enough to let her foot pass the frame – even after Dylan pulled her sneaker off.

“Leave it,” Dylan said. “I’ll think of something else.”

“No way – this is fun.”

“Try going through backwards.”

That was going to be awkward – an acrobat Linda was not. She shifted around again. First one cheek, then the other, passed that darned track. Where next…this needed some thinking. If I put my left hand down on the hot tap, and my right hand on the front edge of the tub,  I can start to let myself down onto the washing machine.

She set the plan in motion – and ended up flat on her back on top of the machine, her legs still up on the window frame.

She walked her feet along and down the wall as she turned herself to face the room, all the while laughing like a crazy woman at what she must look like (were anyone watching).

Once on her feet, she unlocked the laundry door for Dylan. He passed her and went to the door into the bathroom.

Shit, oh dear, he had locked the bathroom door from the inside before they’d gone out! Still no entry to their own house!

Dylan remembered he had tools in the boot of the car. Using a screwdriver he popped the bolts from the door hinges, then levered the door out of its frame, hoping the bolt bracket wouldn’t break the door. But no … success. They were in.

Tempting though it was to leave the door between bathroom and laundry, to let Adele see the open plan layout created by her key forgetfulness, Dylan set about replacing the bathroom doors’ locks with ones that could be opened from the “wrong” side, and setting another lock box out beside the lounge door.

The only real disappointment? No one had filmed her hilarious cat burglar impersonation!

Numbers for One Son

One Son, One Crash, Nine Injuries, One Band

One night, near midnight, the telephone rang, waking us from sleep. The voice asked for verification that I was mother to Michael, and told me she was calling from Auckland Hospital’s Emergency department. I repeated what she said, so my husband would know what was happening. He immediately sprang from bed, and started hauling suitcases down from the cupboard above our wardrobe.

“Michael’s been in an accident?”

“He’s in a critical condition?”

“He may not survive the night?”

“It’s a nine-hour drive.”

“There are no planes to Auckland from here.”

“We’ll hit the road. If there’s any question of permission for any procedure, you have it. Just, please, keep him alive until we arrive.”

Our clothes jammed in the cases and we were on our way, stopping to collect the father of Michael’s girl-friend, who’d been in the same crash. We drove all night, only stopping for a coffee and snack when fatigue hit the driver. We arrived at the Emergency Department at about the same time as the business rush-hour was in full crawl.

“He’s not here,” the man said. I nearly collapsed, thinking he meant our boy had died. “He’s up in the Critical Care ward. I’ll walk with you to show you the way.”

We parted company from the girl’s father, as she was in a general surgical ward, and arrived on the CC floor. Sitting on a bench seat outside the ward was the driver, Richard, his head in his hands. Beside him, another of Michael’s friends. I went straight to Richard, sat beside him, and held him close.

“Richard, this is not your fault. We do not blame you. Please, don’t blame yourself. I’ll call you in as soon as they let Michael have visitors.”

We entered the CC ward, and were led to Michael’s cubicle; there he lay, his usually soft tan skin pallid, eyes closed as he drifted through the induced coma that rested his body. Both of us had tears in our eyes, but we fought them off. Our worry and misery were far outweighed by Michael’s condition.

He had taken nine points of impact and damage when the car had been T-boned at an intersection, and he in the passenger seat took the full impact:

A skull fracture, and concussion;
A fracture of the humerus, and tearing of the ulnar;
A hairline fracture of the C6 vertebra (with potential paralysis);
Two fractures of the pelvic cradle – one at the front, one at the back;
His spleen had been shattered and splattered throughout his abdominal and chest cavity;
Abdominal organs had been forced through his diaphragm (they found his stomach between a lung and his heart)!

They had already removed all traces of his spleen from the abdominal cavity, replaced all organs, and repaired the diaphragm. He wore a neck brace until the C6 hairline fracture showed signs of healing and it was safe to manage without it. They operated to repair the arm fracture.

In the meantime, over the days of visiting him, we all were able to stay in the hospital’s family hostel, with a community kitchen and quiet room. It was a steep walk up to the level of the hospital, and I was using a walker frame, being in recovery form my own health problem.

The girlfriend’s condition was far less concerning than my son’s. She whined about the possibility of a slight scar on her face. Her father had by then been joined by her mother and younger sister – lovely girl. The mother was my husband’s “boss”, and she told him he had to return home, to complete a routine end of the academic year task. So I remained in the family hostel on my own, but managed to get up to the CC ward everyday – just to sit as “wall paper” as Michael lay there, needing quiet, or companionship when he was up to talking.

They operated to pin his pelvic fractures, and advised me he’d be out of surgery and ready to see me at about four-thirty. I returned to the hostel, listening to the radio during the long surgery. When I walked into the CC ward the anaesthetist and surgeon were attending him still. They urgently waved me away, and said they’d fetch me when he was awake and ready. Something was wrong, I could feel their despair.

I waited for another hour and a half before they came out to fetch me. Oh, God. Their faces were the colour of a hospital sheet.

“He’s not coming out of the anaesthetic.” I didn’t wait to hear any more.

Around his bed, the anaesthetist stood at Michael’s head, the theatre nurse stood at Michael’s left side, monitoring his pulse with his hand – watching the wave lines on the monitor. I stood at his right, holding his hand, tears running down my cheeks. It seemed this would be his last hour on earth.

Then, I realised – even in a coma, some patients still hear what is spoken directly to them. Michaelbeing a musician (bass guitar, drums, and vocals in a small rock band) I began talking music to him.

“Michael? The boys in the band are waiting for you. They need you, Michael.”

“Michael, I’ve been listening to the radio all day – The Rock station – all your favourites.”

The medicos were murmuring to each other sotto voce, their tones tinged with concern. I didn’t want to hear their words. Then I remembered something The Rock’s announcer had said.

“Hey, Michael. You know what I heard on the radio? AC/DC are touring down under.”

“Jesus, he’s got a grip!’ cried out the theatre nurse.

“That’s a good response.” The anaesthetist glanced up at the sudden spike on the monitor. “He definitely heard that.

In between silent sobs as I tried to sound calm, I said “Michael, if you come up out of this… if you can wake up… I will get your to an AC/DC concert… even if we have to fly across the Tasman.”

His grip of both our hands was sharp, sudden, strong! Thank you, Lord Jesus.

I kept talking about our favourite band, naming their songs, which videos we both liked best… Heck, I even sang one! I gave time between talking for him to respond – and for the medicos to watch the ever increasing pulses of the monitors of his brain activity, his heart… then, at last…

“Wanna see AC/DC, Mum.” A soft, whispered mumble, but there he was, back from the depths of near death.

Gradually over the next hour as the theatre nurse and I quietly spoke to him about music, his friends… he brought – he fought – himself back to full consciousness. Only when he was stable, and awake but tired – a natural tiredness – could I leave him to sleep.

This post brought to you via

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Post Script: AC/DC announced they would extend their tour to New Zealand, to Auckland. At the time, I had relapsed (shortly after Michael’s surgeries were completed, and my body collapsed after bearing all the stress) and was again confined to my own hospital bed at home. But Michael, and his sister, did get to hear our favourite band perform live. I have to admit, I cried as I couldn’t be there with them.

Let’s Play ‘Pretend’

d “Let’s play ‘pretend’,” she’d say. And on a dairy farm, miles from the nearest town, and a long way to walk to play at your friends’ farm…what else could you do when you’re bored with dolls, toys, colouring in, and all the other indoor activities. On a sunny day, playing ‘pretend’ was the best way to fill our day.

“Let’s pretend we’re Robin Hood?”

“No, there’s only two of us here, and I’m fed up of being the Sherriff of Nottingham!”

“Let’s pretend we’re Sir Edmund Hillary!”

“No. That only means we walk up the hills to the ridge at the top. That’s not real climbing.”

“Well, let’s pretend we’re Biggles and Ginger.”

“Yes, let’s. Can I be Biggles this time?”

“No, you’re too small to fit in the cockpit. I’ll be Biggles.”

So that means I’m Ginger. Like I was the last times we’ve pretended.

“You don’t mind, do you.” It’s not a question. She’s already heading off down towards the cream stand near the gate.

I don’t mind, not really. At least Ginger gets to do more than Biggles, who just tells me what to do. I follow, as always, as we move across to the windbreak of old macrocarpa trees. No breeze today, so no riding the lower branches.

Beside – actually through some of the trees’ trunks – is the old almost-still-a fence, with its posts slanting every which way, probably supported more by the macrocarpa trunks than the posts. Lying across the sagging top wires is the old tree trunk, blown down years ago, stripped by the weather and the seasons of its bark and side branches.

We scramble over the fence into the old orchard, with its rows of neglected apple trees whose windfall fruit feeds the pigs when they’re allowed out from their sties. I’ve never seen the pigs myself. She has. She’s told me why Dad doesn’t want us to come into the orchard – the pigs are wild, she told me, and dangerous. That’s why we mustn’t tell Dad and Mum this is where we sometimes play.

Biggles checks the plane, making sure it’s not damp, it’s got no bugs in it. As she climbs into the cockpit, she gives Ginger orders.

“There’s parts missing, Ginger. See what you can get from the hangar.” So I get some likely-looking twigs, and pass them up to her. I start to climb up into the seat behind Biggles.

“Ginger, I’ll do the safety checks. But we’re short on fuel. Sort it out old chap.” I leave her to stick twigs into borer holes, for switches, climb through the fence again and get the old bucket from under the cream stand. It’s always there. I’ve told Dad about it. I asked him if he wanted me to bring it home, but he said to leave it there.

I carry it up to the house, going in through the front hedge and around to the water tank beside the back of the house. I refuel it, and carry it back to the plane. It’s heavy, and some sloshes out.

“That’s not much fuel,’ says Biggles.

“That’s all the chaps could spare. Besides, you said there was some fuel left from the last flight.”

“Okay, Ginger. Fuel her up.” I pour the ‘fuel’ into an opening in the old trunk. We both know the hole goes right through, and I’ve worked out how to stand and refuel without getting fuel on my feet. I put the bucket down by the fence, and climb aboard.

“Wait till I get the engine running, Ginger. I need you to pull away the chocks.” Biggles starts the engine. “Took, took, tchook, tchook… Took, took, tchook, tchook… Took, tchook, tchooka… Rrrrrrr, Rrrrrr… Chocks away, Ginger!”

I kick away two rocks, and clamber aboard. Biggles has the motor running smoothly, and it starts into a full roar, rising in pitch, as he revs her up and we take off. I run the motor when Biggles runs out of breath, so the engine doesn’t stutter and die.

“I say, Ginger,” calls Biggles. “We’re right over the enemy air field now. Snap those photos now, old boy!” Biggles takes over the engine, while I hold out the camera and take snaps.

Click. Kachick. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik.

“I got four good snaps, Biggles. Will that do the major?”

“Keep snapping Ginger!”

Click. Kachick. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik.

“Right-oh, that’ll have to do. One of their planes is out taxiing – they’re after us. Let’s head for home. Well done, Ginge!”

We fly back to base, land, and taxi to our spot beside the runway. Biggles does the safety checks while I replace the chocks.

“Great flight, Biggles. Are we going to see the major straight away?”

“Oh no, Ginger. Let’s stop off at the canteen for a cuppa on the way.”

We clamber through the fence, I replace the fuel bucket, and we walk up the gentle slope to the house – going through the back gate to the kitchen.

“Welcome back chaps. Good flight?” Mum asks. The teapot’s full, and there’s scones on the counter. Help yourselves, won’t you.” She smiles, and leave us to it, going out to the clothes line to lower the prop and unpeg the washing.

“Runs a good canteen, does Mum, eh.”

“Yes, she does.”

Dairy farm, c. 1955-56, in Whangarata, Waikato, New Zealand
This memory brought to you by

Year 2316 NA

The two of them were bending over a case, browsing through three-dimensional projected images inside the glass case. The young lad kept flicking through the menu, rejecting choices faster than the old man could keep up. He was frowning at the boy’s rushing, and hit the [Project] button on one image, of an old tower building. He seemed to recognise it.

Majestic Hotel, 1930.

“Here… my great-great- great…who knows how many greats, Grandah helped build that!”


“Built over 300 year ago, now Grandah.” The boy was reading the projected data

“Do you tell me that?”

“I do, that. Majestic Hotel, it were. What’s ‘hotel’?”

“Do you not know that? A hotel was a place people stayed when they came to visit a town.”

“Like our Home-blocks, then?”

“Not at all, not at all. Guests they were called, and only stayed a short time before moving on, and paid for their staying.”

“They paid for a place to live, then?”

“No, for a place to stay…listen boyo. Back then, people paid for everything.”

“Everything, Grandah? Like, food, and clothes, and school, and—“

“Not school. That were Gummint provided, no cost. ‘Cept for rich people; they paid if their chil-derns were at a private school. Least, dat’s what I’ve read.”

“So, Grandah, this hotel… built ‘way back in th’ olden days then. But it looks same as our home-blocks, dunnit.”

“So it does, so it does. Back then, it were called ‘futuristic’. Wonder what them people’d think if they saw our buildings today.”

Ding! …and the Simulated Automatic Mouth recited…
“Doors close in fifteen minutes. Those on floors thirty-five to fifty, use the express elevators one, two, three, four and five. From floors fifteen to thirty-four, use elevators six, seven, eight and nine. Those on floors fourteen and below, use elevators ten, eleven and twelve to the third floor. Those on the third floor use the rapid escalator in the central foyers. Do not use elevators thirteen and fourteen. At the sound of the next bell, you will have thirteen minutes to clear the building.”

“It’s closing time, Grandah; we’ll have to use a rapid elevator.”

“Do you tell me that, boyo?”

“I do that, I. Can we come again?” He grabbed his mePad and stuffed it into the meBag which began to buzz, ready to follow him.

“Can you not use the Explorer on your edication pad?”

“Yea, I can…but here, it’s more like real. Can we come back, then?” He grabbed Grandah’s hand and began walking to elevator three, along the footway between exhibits. His meBag followed.

“Next time your edication pad posts a day off, we will, for sure.”

“Thirteen minutes to clear the building.”

“That’s a promise, is it?”

“It’s a promise, boyo.”

This post created for the Google+ ‘Writers Discussion Group
(Hoping the link take you straight to the starter post there”

Off the Page July’s homework

“I need to go now.” She reached across the sofa for her handbag, fumbling to grab its straps.

“Now? You’ve twenty minutes before the bus comes.” The tea towel in his hands twisted in a knot, his hands winding and unwinding it. “Can you wait?”

Looking through the pouches of the bag, checking without seeing its contents, her side vision caught them both reflected in the mirror. She couldn’t look—at it, or at him. “It’s a nice morning. I’ll walk to the next stop.”

“About last night. I want…“ He turned away, threw the tea towel into the kitchen. Head down, he rummaged in the baggy pockets of his old cargo pants—a cigarette packet. He drew out a half-smoked fag and the lighter.

“Don’t light up inside.” He wouldn’t, but it was something to say. She groped through her bag, as she groped through her mind for the words needed. Nothing came.

From opposite sides of the room—the space between empty with its minimalistic décor, as empty as each felt—they faced each other, not looking.

“Let’s just pretend last night didn’t happen. It won’t happen again.”

She walked out, touching the new bruise on her eye.

The Brief:

Show a relationship between two characters using Subtext – what’s not said or told, what’s not in the lines, but between the lines.

Commended entry to Mapua Literary Festival short story competition

The Moon Disappeared Behind Dark Clouds

{This sentence was required within the story}

The moon disappeared behind dark clouds, leaving the campsite and campers blind–if they’d been awake. Their campfire had been extinguished when they’d been sent to bed. Bringing flashlights, candles or matches had been forbidden, for this was a Teen Intervention camp, three days walk from the nearest highway, along a dusty, gravelly track.
Seven tents had been pitched in a horseshoe-shape, and numbered from the eastern end around to the western, one to seven. Two strangers to each tent, with the Leader Robert D Raingier (pronounced as “Raing-ee-ay” he had emphasized) in tent four at centre of the U. Once Police Special Ops, demoted to Public Service and the beat, he never revealed he had been retired early. His late career expertise with disaffected youth gave him the cred for running this programme for teen shop-lifters, serial home runaways, drug and alcohol abusers … and those who’d learned the best form of defence was attack.
Within the six teens’ tents, all were asleep–oblivious to the blackness outside. Mr Raingier was not–he was lying belly down on his cot facing the pinned-back flap and its opening. Without shifting his stare through the doorway, he reached under the cot and took hold of his night-vision goggles. Putting them on, he’d be able to see if any left their tent, or lit up inside it.
A-hah! In tent seven, a flick of a lighter gave a quick spark and blacked out again.
Inside the tent, two watchful boys were sitting on their cots facing each other. One, Dobbo, was fumbling blindly down in the foot of his sleeping bag, for his pack of fags.
“Don’t light that again!” He hissed, not realising a hiss travels more clearly than does a whisper or even a mutter.
“But can you find them?” His mate Frank was desperate or a smoke.
“Makes no damn difference whether you flick that bloody lighter or not, idiot! It ain’t gonna shine down inter the bag, is it! Ah, gottem.”
“Got what, boys? Tobacco? Mary-jane?” Raingier’s voice was a deathly quiet murmur “Come on out, you hear? And bring it with you. Now.”.
The lads stooped to get through the low entrance, and meekly handed over the lighter and smokes.
“Follow me.”
The boys heard him move away, and stumbled after him, wondering how his step was so silent and confident, whereas they could not see a foot in front of themselves. If they made any sound after tripping, slithering down the slight slope or banging into anything, his quiet voice made a quick “Fft”.
When he stopped they bumped into him and each other. He made no sound to indicate their noise mattered now, and time had passed enough that Dobbo and Frank knew the hollow they were in was some distance from the campsite.
“Don’t move from there.” Raingier moved off some distance by the sounds they heard of a lockbox being opened, things lifted out, and the lid closed again. They both nearly jumped when his next words came, so suddenly close to them again.
“You–this way”
Dobbo found his arm in a vice-like grip. Raingier drew him away from Frank, and suddenly slammed his back against a trunk–rough bark dug into his skin through his light cotton shirt. Suddenly his arms were behind him around the tree, and the rip of a zip-tie slammed his wrists together.
“Dobbo? What was that? You awrigh’?” Frank heard no reply–Dobbo’s mouth was full of peanut butter sandwich with duct tape sealing his lips. “Gawd aw’mighty! You scared me then, ‘Mr Ranger, Sir’!”
Raingier, his arm now with a tight grip on Frank’s arm, said nothing–infuriated as the quotation from the cartoon Yogi Bear always made him feel. He dragged Frank in the opposite direction, still in this blind hollow, but farther from Dobbo. He tied Frank to a trunk, stuffed his mouth with a sandwich and taped it shut before Frank could blink.
The boys heard his near silent tread leaving them alone in the black. Although each writhed to pull their wrists from the zip-locks, they only succeeded in drawing the bindings tighter into their skin. Dobbo realised his skin had been split when he felt blood dripping down his palm, and immediately stopped struggling. He hoped Frank would wake up and not struggle too.
High overhead, a sky breeze scudded clouds away from the moon, just long enough for the boys to be able to glimpse each other across the clearing in the base of the hollow, and to realise they couldn’t see over the top of the slope enclosing them. They imagined each other’s state, having only a dim sight of eyebrows and wide eyes. This was not good, they knew.
– – –
Jacinda in that same momentary gleam caught sight of Raingier walking towards the camp, scanning each tent. She shrank back, seeing his night goggles. Raingier, satisfied none of the teens were awake, slipped into his tent. In moments he was snoring. She sneaked out of her tent and into his–and within a minute had found and lifted his night goggles. Outside, the clouds re-covered the moon. With the goggles on, she headed out in the direction Raingier had come. She had street-sharpened instincts, and glancing from side to side caught a broken branchlet here, a skid there, and before long was standing on the edge of the hollow.

She half walked, half slid down. Knifing through zip-locks, ripping off duct tape, she stepped back as the remaining moosh of the sandwich gag was choked out.
“Jaysis, guys, what the hell was this?”
“Raingier caught us–smokes and lighter.” Frank glanced around, hoping Raingier was well away.
“Relax, he’s snoring like a pig. Jaysis–if this is for smokes, what if he found me knife!”
In another brief moment of light, they saw her eyes slit.
“Don’t worry guys–this won’t happen again…”