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Flash Fiction

The following story is a guest post, written by Meg Johnson. It was inspired by this Writing prompt from Pinterest.

Meg has co-authored a book ‘Rose Scar’ which is due to be published soon.

 

 

Mr Henry Brookwood was reading the newspaper for the tenth time that day.

‘Absolute rubbish. They make me out to be a fool!’ He shouted. He scrunched up the paper and threw it across the room. ‘I saw them. Why don’t they believe me?’

His secretary entered the room, picked it up with a sigh and put it back on his desk.

‘Go home Miss Berling, and take that rubbish with you.’

‘Thank you, sir. Good night.’ As she got her coat and hat she glanced at the story that had so enraged her employer.

Once again last night the wealthy Mr Henry Brookwood from Brookwood and Sons contacted this newspaper and the police. He claims that is late wife, Clara, and two sons, Charles and Samuel, are still alive and walking the streets at night although they were found dead in the Brookwood household only five days ago by the maid. The police are investigating their murder. Mr Henry Brookwood has declined to be interviewed by this newspaper, but has sent regular letters.

 

Henry worked late into the night. Every time his thoughts turned to home he found something else to do. No point in going back to that empty house, or worse, a house full of grieving friends and relatives all after tittle tattle! He convinced himself. Finally, with clocks striking midnight across the city, he packed away his papers. He placed on his coat and his top hat, grabbed his cane and left his office at Brookwood and sons locking the door behind him. No one would be around this late at night he thought. No need to speak to anyone.

It was a cold and blustery winter’s evening with a typical London fog. As he walked his mind started wandering. It drifted to thoughts of his wife and sons from years before when Samuel was just a baby and Charles was a young boy starting at school. As the happy thoughts came back to him Henry saw the fog clear for a moment in the wind. On the street ahead of him he saw his young wife and holding the hand of a young boy, and pushing a pram. He shouted and walked a little faster but as he got towards them the fog moved again and they disappeared.

Henry’s shoulders sagged as he walked the next few streets slower than before. His eyes moistened, making it even more difficult to see. His mind wandered again and he thought of the times he’d spent teaching his teenage sons about his business and that they would one day takeover after him. His thoughts were disturbed as he heard his name being called. It was the voice of Clara calling out to him, he was convinced. He stopped and looked around him, blinking to clear his vision. At first he could see nothing, but then he heard his name again, this time from across the street. As he looked the fog drifted away and he saw his wife and teenage sons. But by the time he ran across the road to them they were no longer there. Henry turned and in despair walked the rest of the way home as fast as he could. He tried to shut out all thoughts by singing hymns to himself.

When Henry finally got home he got the keys from his coat pocket to open the door. At first, hands shaking, he fumbled the key into the lock but couldn’t turn it. He realised that it was already unlocked. Strange he thought the maid should have already have gone to her rest by this hour. I will need to speak to her about that. he thought as he walked to the drawing room, planning to take a small brandy and cigar to try and help him sleep. But as he opened to door he saw four police constables standing, hats in hands looking down at the floor and the police commissioner standing by the fire.

‘Henry Brookwood I am arresting you on suspicion of murder of your wife, Clara and your sons, Charles and Samuel.’ The Commissioner stated calmly, adding, more quietly, ‘I’m sorry Brookwood, old man. I can’t stop this, so thought it was better to do it myself.’

But Henry had stopped listening. All he could her was the cries of his sons shouting Father, you’re home! and his wife patently telling them to stop shouting. They sounded so real to him that he was smiling as he was handcuffed and led away.

 

(c) Meg Johnson 2016

 

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Horses gallop across a field, their riders in red trumpeting and hooting, jumping over aeons old dry-stone walls and churning the ground to mud. Ranks of men, women and children line up against a wall. Sickles, scythes, knives and rusty shovels at the ready. Blood mud and carnage as they meet. Unearthly sounds break the day, screams from horses, men and ravens waiting their meals. Walls destroyed allow cows and sheep to stand sentinel to the madness, witness to the carnage but too afraid to get any closer. Hours later survivors pick over the corpses looking for their loved ones, their sons, husbands, lovers, or filching clothes and valuables from the bodies while Valkyries circle, waiting their moment to swoop.

In London the presses run the headlines. ‘The revolution has begun’

 

(c) Chris Johnson 2016

I found an audio file recently on a memory card I bought 2nd hand from ‘NorthPoleMan’. I’ve transcribed it here. What could it mean?

Muffled cursing and chair scraping.

‘Is this thing on? I think it is. Ok, here we go.

‘Here is my confession. I hate Christmas. Well, not hate, that’s hyperbole. I just dislike it. And I find myself constantly having to explain why. Well, not constantly, that’s hyperbole too. Just regularly. Well regularly from early November onwards. Actually it’s the hyperbole I don’t like.

‘I’m not making a very good job of this am I? Let me start again.’

Sounds of a pen scratching notes, paper being torn and scrunched up followed by muffled swearing. Eventually:

‘Right. So I don’t like Christmas. It’s so stressful. Buying presents, working out what some people want, “surprise me” they say. Thanks for nothing! Making lists, checking them, and checking them again. Queuing for the ‘must have’ toy for kids. There’s always someone whose list is full of things that are so expensive I end up maxing out my cards. Then they all need to be wrapped. And delivered. And who defines naughty and nice? Over what timescale? And then I have to work all through the holidays, not like some people who have two weeks off. And don’t get me started on the traffic. And the weather.

‘It’s not like it was in the old days. Not so long ago kids were happy with a new toy or warm clothes. Parents just wanted a day off work and maybe a good meal and a drink. None of this months of anticipation followed by days or weeks of excess. I mean, basically it’s just a midwinter festival, right? Celebrate that we survived this far into the winter. Celebrate that the days are getting lighter and we may make it through to the spring.’

Sound of a drink being poured, swallowed and a glass being put down followed by a voice in the distance “Don’t you drink too much, beardy, you need to be off to work soon!”

‘It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for my job. In those days my job was much easier. Now, pah! I’m lucky if I get a day or two off between finishing one year and starting the next. And people really believed in me then. I was much stronger. Not now. I’m just a face on a card or a TV advert.

‘Nostalgia, eh? Memories of easier times. Not that everything was easier. Winter could be brutal. I’m way too hot in my work clothes now. Chalk that one up to global warming I suppose.

‘Oh well, I best get off, it’s time to go to work.

‘Oh, and for the record, I hate sherry ok? And would it kill you to leave a bacon sandwich instead of mince pies?

Sound of boots walking away followed by a faint ‘Oi, Rudolph, get yourself over here. Sleigh’s loaded. It’s time to go! Ho! Ho! Ho!’

 

Author’s note: I don’t hate Christmas really. I hope all my readers and followers have a peaceful Christmas (or winter festival of your choice) and prosperous New Year.

© Chris Johnson 2015

The Station Master – A ghost story

‘Station 20151207_161537Master! Station Master!’

The messenger banged on the door until the Station Master opened it dressed in his pyjamas and great coat. The messenger barely held in a laugh at how the man, who was an absolute tartar when working, looked so silly. He gabbled out his message.

‘German ships off the coast, Station Master. Heading this way. We have to stop the trains here, turn back any we can.’

‘Slow down boy. Tell me again.’

‘It’s the Hun. They’re coming up the coast. We’ve got to stop all of the trains, turn back any we can.’

‘Ok boy. You get on to Whitby, I’ll get organised here.’

The Station Master, being a kindly man if somewhat of a hard task master, sent his wife, children, maid and the station porter inland away from any danger. By the early hours of 16 December 1914 he was on the platform, still dressed in his pyjamas, coat and slippers, holding a red lamp out over the line. There were no trains due until 06:42 but war had played hell with timetables and there were often unscheduled trains through to and from the harbour. So the Station Master paced his platform, waving a red lamp. Soon he was standing, shivering and soaked through, at the end of the platform waving the lamp on the end of a long pole across the line.

The night was cold and wet. But he knew that the lives of anyone on any train passing through could depend on him so he carried on swinging the lantern through the cold. He carried on when the wind blew the rain sideways and drove it in to his uniform, chilling him to the core. He carried on when even though the wind blew so hard that he had to lean in to it to keep him upright. He knew that he could not move, even to go for a dry coat. And he’d sent away the only people who could take a turn or bring him dry clothes. So he stood there, swung the lantern, and waited.

The 06:42 was about two hours late. So the Station Master had been out for the best part of seven hours in the worst weather for a generation when it arrived. The driver saw the lantern swinging and stopped just short of the platform end. The Station Master stayed where he was, swinging the lantern. The driver and engineer shouted to ask what was wrong. When they didn’t get a response they finally climbed down from the warmth and relative dryness of the cab and walked over to where he stood. When they got there he was still waving the lamp. The driver touched him on the shoulder. He was dead. He had frozen in place and the lamp was only swinging because of the wind.

Sometimes, on December nights, especially when it’s windy, he can still be seen on the platform swinging his lantern.

 

 

In December 2015 I spent some time in the Station House at Ruswarp with a group of friends. This is one of the stories inspired by that visit – on a very windy night I sat and worked up the first draft, which was later amended to introduce the 1914 bombardment of the East coast in to the story.

Photograph and words (C) Chris Johnson 2015

I remember when this frame was new, shiny, silver plated. It had pride of place on the fireplace. My mother would take it down and polish off the nicotine and dust at least once a week. More often if someone was coming round. She bought it for her favourite picture of me. Taken at my cousin’s wedding in June 1950, I was wearing my first ever suit, a new hat, highly polished shoes. I’d been allowed to stand at the bar with the grown up men for the first time, allowed to smoke cigarettes and drink beer with them. Bitter tasting, warm and flat, it tasted like nectar to my seventeen year old self. It explains the crooked smile. My mother thought I looked grown up. I thought I looked drunk. We were both right.

My mother died in 1965. The frame went into a box. It was, lost, forgotten. No one wanted it any more. Not until one day in 1968 when my nephew, John, in bell bottom jeans and a tie-dyed shirt, found it while he was looking for inspiration for a university assignment. He wrote the assignment, passed and so kept the frame and my picture in his bedsit as a lucky charm. The room that was always full of loud music, the smell of pot, sweat and cheap beer. The silver plate got black in the thick smoke, the glass got covered with dust.

The frame moved around with John for another ten years. From his bedsit until his first divorce he kept it on display. In the early seventies cigar smoke replaced pot smoke, dinner party conversation and playing children replaced the loud music. By the late seventies his marriage had broken down and the sounds of arguments and screaming adults took over. The silver plate flaked. The picture faded. Eventually Amy issued the ultimatum and John took the easy route. He packed a bag and walked away. She dumped the rest of his belongings on the street. All but the picture frame. It sat, forgotten again, on the top shelf of a book case full of unread Dickens, Shakespeare and Chaucer along with a hundred Mills and Boone romances with broken spines and loose pages. A witness through her days of tears, sadness and endless David Soul ballads. Right through to the day when Amy started dating again. It was the new boyfriend who noticed it.

‘Hey, Amy, who’s this bloke?’

‘I don’t know. It’s one of John’s family I think. I’d forgotten it was there.’

‘He looks drunk. Shame this frame’s not real silver, it would have been worth something.’

‘It’s just a cheap thing. I’ll give it back to John.’

She put the frame face down on a telephone table in the hall. It stayed there for three months. Dark, dusty and ignored until John saw it one day when he was collecting the kids and Amy told him to take it.

John passed the frame on to his nephew, Julian. He was real eighties success story, a young millionaire trader in the city with a blonde girlfriend sharing his converted warehouse apartment. It sat on a shelf in the bathroom because Julian thought it was funny to talk to his Grandad, who told endless stories of austerity, while he was literally pissing away a fortune in overpriced champagne. During one of his parties someone thought it would be a good idea to snort cocaine off the glass. The party went on for days. The conversation fast and meaningless. The smoke as thick as it was in the sixties, the drug of choice and the price of the alcohol massively different. Then the market crashed, and so did Julian. The frame was taken from his repossessed apartment in the mid nineties and sold in a job lot to a second hand furniture dealer. Where it stayed. For two decades. It got moved from time to time. Picked up, dusted, put back somewhere new. But no one wanted to spend six pounds on a faded picture of a stranger in his first suit on his way to his first hangover in a battered frame with few patches of silver plate left.

At one of those dinner parties in the seventies one of John’s friends drunkenly joked that there was a tribe in Peru that believed that having their picture taken stole part of their soul. He found it hilarious. But it’s true. I’ve looked out from this frame for fifty five years. I’ve seen so much. And I’m ready for another change of scenery now. Please.

(c) Chris Johnson 2015

I can smell the wild garlic, the mown grass, the scent of a late summer. Mile after mile seems effortless as I run in the light of the full moon. Running is freedom, running is life, running because, not for, not to.

At least usually. Tonight I can hear them following. Sometimes they gain, mostly they drop behind. But never far enough. Tonight I’m running for, not because. And I’m not sure where to.

A cloud passes across the moon. I break out into the open, hoping for cover while it is darker. Sheep scatter. Bleating loud, they might as well be a siren call to my pursuers.

I hear the shouts behind. They’re forming into a pack. Getting clever. Soon one or two will try to outflank me. Then I’m done for.

I smell it before I hear it or see or hear it. A music festival. God knows why. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Still, a God send for me. Lights, people, smells, noise. And only about a mile away. I redouble my speed and head for the horizon.

Too late I realise that staring at the lights has ruined my might vision. I run flat out into a barbed wire fence. I land heavily, grunt. Cut and bruised. Blood trickles. Not good. I get back up and running, ignoring the pain, but I’ve given them another chance to catch up and now I’m leaving a trail.
Suddenly I’m there. I slink through the crowds. They’re concentrating on the stage, ignore me. I find a quiet spot. Hide behind a kebab van. Drooling with hunger, panting from the exertion and yes, I admit, shivering with fear.

I listen carefully, but there’s no sign of them following me. It’s not likely. Not into this noise, light, smells and number of people. They’ll wait until everyone’s gone. If I play my cards right I can follow the crowds back into the nearest town.

I eat, then change.

So the cycle starts again. I’ll be with people until they find out, then with wolves again until they smell me out.

A werewolf is never welcome anywhere. Not for long anyway.

Author’s note. The Y Not? Festival took place in Pike Hall, Derbyshire, on the same weekend as the blue moon on 31 July 2015. Which got me thinking… I took one liberty with this story, I’m pretty sure there are no wolves in the Peak District. Werewolves however; well, who knows?

(c) Chris Johnson 2015

11898940_10153633488311095_2218785026502278564_nThe candle guttered as the breeze from the open window blew across the flame. The room was otherwise dark and silent, Charlie and Evie long having run out of conversation and retreated to their own thoughts. Charlie assumed that Evie was composing a poem. He had always envied her ability to ‘write’ in her head and only later commit to paper. He needed to see words on a page, to see what they looked like and to capture them before they were lost. He was thinking about money. Or lack of money. Hence the Friday night blackout. It saved on electricity. At least that was what Evie said. ‘With what we save on a Friday we can go out or have a take away on a Saturday, and anyway it’s a great way to come up with ideas and work on them’. Except it never seemed to end up that there was enough money left for a night out and he never came up with ideas that he could remember long enough to use.

Charlie knew that Evie was by far the better writer of the two of them. She seemed to turn her hand to any genre, sold articles and fake agony aunt letters and responses to the local papers and even had some interest from an agent for her unfinished novel. Not that they ever had any money, even with his part time wages and the money he managed to get from selling by the inch filler pieces on local clubs and societies to the local free papers, they still struggled.

A moth flew in and started to circle the candle. Charlie watched as it flew close to the flame, then further away only to be drawn back again. Evie gasped as it flew straight through the flame and trailed smoke as it circled a little wider for a while before, inevitably, being drawn back. Charlie just knew she was composing some deep meaningful poem. He tried to come up with some ideas himself. He could write about pilots in a dog fight. Something meaningful about how the pilots had more in common with each other than with the politicians who sent them to fight. He reached for the ever present notebook and pen, then realised that he couldn’t see well enough to write and Evie would never allow a light. Even so, he stared at the flame and started to plot the story even though he knew he would never remember it, hoping that something useful would remain somewhere in his subconscious.

Time passed. The moth continued to flirt with the flame and somehow just avoid being burned alive.

“Bed time.” Evie said. “Have you come up with any ideas?”

“A few” he lied.

“I’ve got a poem on the go. That moth was a brilliant inspiration, don’t you think?”

“I suppose.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, of course I am. Always.”

Evie went to bed. Charlie blew out the candle and closed the window before he followed her up. As he got into bed Evie recited some of the poem she’d ‘written’. She was using the moth circling the flame as a metaphor for a destructive relationship, subverting what appeared to be a love poem into something really quite dark in the final verse. It was genius. Charlie was devastated. Again.

Charlie dreamed. He was a moth and Evie was the flame he was circling. Every time he tried to get away she drew him back. But whenever he got too close he got burned. He woke with a start. Realising he would not get back to sleep he quietly got out of bed and went downstairs. The candle sat where it had been the night before. The moth was dead, its body preserved in the re-hardened wax. Before Evie woke he had packed and gone. Out into the darkness.

 

 

Photograph (c) Karen Downs-Barton 2015. Thanks to Karen for the writing prompt and kind permission to use her photograph. You can find her at: http://karendownsbarton.blogspot.co.uk/

Words (c) Chris Johnson 2015