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June 2016

rsz_we_were_kids
Short story, writing competition

WINNER OF THE GAUNTLET- WE WERE KIDS

Author: Nesbit & Gibley 

Illustration: Teapotsforelephants

Our instructions were clear: exit the bus in Tolbridge, walk 11 miles south-east, turn left at the farmhouse and walk to the sea. Bring some beer, bring some board games but don’t tell Mum and Dad.

We convinced our parents we were all going to summer camps, so they were happy to pay for the journey. Following the notes, we exited the bus, made the route, and arrived. Sat on the clifftop, meters from a 300 foot drop, was the cottage.

It belonged to Agnes Howler’s parents. They had enough wealth to gold their belt buckles, silk their shoelaces; this was just one of their dozen homes. It had been years since they stayed, as they forever spent their time in the African sun. Because her parents hadn’t been to the cottage in years, there wasn’t any electricity, nor a single drop of fuel for the generator. There was also a problem with the plumbing, which meant no running water. But we accepted it for the price of an underage, unadulterated party. We cooked in the dark using camping stoves, we boiled water from the sea and we went to the toilet outside.

There were six of us in total. Imogen Tully, the Bradley brothers, Jim and Dick, Marcus Dahl, Agnes and myself. All of us friends from school. We spent days trekking the high cliffs and plodding along the thin beaches, collecting shells and picking up driftwood for the evening fires. We skipped stones and built sandcastles, like we were eight year olds.

On our last day, with the sun clamped behind the clouds and the infamous furious winds battering the clifftop, we remained indoors. We only realised then that we had three copies of Monopoly, two boxes of dominoes, and a pack of cards to entertain us. Although, being as close friends as we were, it wasn’t a problem. We drank the rest of the beer, cooked all of the sausages, and swapped stories from our childhood, shouting over each other as the strong winds contested our voices. We only braved the wrath outside to drain the beer we drank.

We all met up for a coffee last week. It’s been twenty years since our stay at the cottage and twenty years since we’ve spoken. Everyone has come so far. Imogen is a teacher and happily married to a marine biologist, Jim and Dick have their own furniture business, and Agnes is a successful author.

We only spoke of the future; where we all hoped to be in the next ten or twenty years, where we’d like to be living. Of course, it was all an effort to dodge the subject of Marcus, and our memories of him.

We had a laugh, though. Jim and Dick are still jokers and Agnes can really tell a story. We did our best to hold a smile, to let each other know we were all okay.

We never blamed ourselves for what happened. It was summer, and we were kids.

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Short story, Thriller

In The Garden Of Krakow ( Part 2 )

Author: Timothy Connolly

Illustration: Mark Smith

He left the apartment with sweat dripping down his back.

Christ, that had never happened before. A woman offering that. Christ, that. Jesus, he hadn’t known what to do. The only thing he could think of, besides that, was to get the hell out of there.

He didn’t even get the money. The snow touched his blush as he remembered what happened. She probably thinks he was an idiot. ‘Don’t worry, I can find out what’s wrong with your machine.’

She was probably mocking him. The mucky plumber man. His Kinga would know what to do. His wife, well, his ex‐wife, would know what to make of a woman like that. Whether she was a strumpet, a seductress or the Virgin Mary herself.

He sighed as he stepped between a shadow reaching for the stars. He needed vodka. Like a baby needed milk. Like he needed his wife. But, unfortunately, she had left him. His mind turned black.

Focused on the metal in his pocket. What could have marked it like that? A bit of machinery caught? But it’s so goddamn unusual? Perhaps he should find out and show that lady he was no fool.

Marcin went home and opened the door. He looked at the mess. His mother had cleaned, and then his wife had cleaned, and, when they were all gone, he had been unable to. Clothes lay on the floor. A nude woman looked at him from the wall. The picture of the pope squinted through months of dust. Marcin felt a moment of absurd guilt. He really should clean, but Christ, the pope himself is hardly going to visit.

He turned the television on low. Just to hear another human being. The news played a scene of starvation and disease.

The pierogi flavoured the air like burning wax. His fingers pressed on smooth metal as he popped open the can. Ancient paint flaked off his skin. He could feel the silence in his apartment. As if the ceiling reached to infinity. The dust in his fingers. The grain of the wood. This feeling of weight…

The piece of metal lay before him on the table. What could make that mark? It was not accidental, of that he was suddenly sure. No other metal was ruined. No parts were bent. Nothing was amiss except for this single hunk of icy steel. He remembered the woman’s black eyes glinting from the sun. He wondered what had happened to those immigrants…

His doorbell rang. And, still thinking of that piece of metal, he got up and opened it.

‘Marcin,’ the voice spoke with the scent of smoke and old leather. He blinked. The man before him had silver at the side of his hair. Lines ran along his face, his eyes were pale and the pink of his lips flaked. White blazed from his collar like a dying sun.

‘Yes… how can I help you, Father?’

‘My sister sent me. You may have met her today while you carted off that damned contraption?’

He blushed when he remembered.

‘Eh, we may have said hello.’

‘I’m sure you did,’ he looked at him as if Marcin had forgot his schoolwork, ‘May I come in? The night is cold, and these bones are so old.’

‘Of course… Of course, Father.’

He let him in. The light grew bright. Showing the magazines, the dirt, the lack of a woman, and ending with the dusty picture of the pope. Marcin covered the magazines with a rag, and dusted the neglected Pope. Smiling, he looked at the priest. The priest stared at him.

‘Eh, so Father, what can I do for you?’

‘It’s what I can do for you.’

He stopped himself from scratching his head. The priests used to frown at that when he was a schoolboy.

‘Sure, sure. Sit down please,’ he fiddled with his thumbs. ‘So, how can I… No, how can you, help me?’

‘My sister was telling me about the man she had met. An unfortunate meeting as our brother should have arrived. My sister should never have called you. I have to ask… have you met him yet?’

‘No… Should I have?’

‘Good. It’s best that you don’t, lest he leave a stain. Let us two men, old men, wise men, talk this out amongst ourselves. Leave the women, leave the children, leave that man who you will not meet, it is just us. Two men all alone in a too young world. In a place where evil is rife and redemption infinite.’

‘I’m sorry, but…’

‘Go on my son.’

‘I completely lost you.’

‘Few people can follow,’ the atrocities of the television lit his eyes and formed a lullaby beneath his words. ‘But I hope you will. What do you see when you look out that window?’

He looked out the window. Streetlights spread like stars in the sky and, if it were not for this man, he would have felt like the last person on earth.

‘Some streetlights.’

‘What else?’

‘… the sky?’

‘Exactly. Light and dark. Two opposing forces that we must contend with. We all go from the light, every night, into the dark, and hope we are not spirited away. We fear the footsteps, as we should, in case we cannot find our way. We fear the strangers, as if they may take our soul. We fear ourselves, as if we will be swayed from this mortal realm. It is a terrifying place. This land of light and night. A place to tempt you, to corrupt you, to end you. But we all walk out again. We all remain pure. Uncorrupted and back in this heavenly realm. Where we belong. Don’t you agree?’

‘I have no idea…’

‘If somebody passes into the darkness, should you stop them from coming back to the light?’

‘Father…’

‘Just think, my child. The son of God. A man of free will, passed from father to child.’

He looked at the piece of machinery, and it blazed with its own scalpel glow.

He looked at the priest and his voice hardened, ‘Father.’

‘I’m saying all that can be said. I’m saying nothing. I’m saying what needs to be said.’

‘Get out.’

It was the priest’s turn to blink, ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Get out. You are not welcome.’

His mother would have scolded him if she had heard him. Christ, he would have had some slap.

But, in that moment, he did not care. The priest stood up and left.

But his presence did not leave. Marcin could taste it on his tongue. It smelt of hot air, undulating candle flames and shadowed alcoves. It smelt of heaven, hell, and every dark crevice in between. He looked at the metal. He held it in his hands. He touched the scratches on its surfaces and wondered: Could this have kept the gas flowing?

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Comedy, Mind disco

Foal Play

Author & Illustration: Mark Smith

My mum once punched a horse in the face. You probably think I’m lying, and to be honest that’s fairly typical of you, but I’m actually telling the truth. The horse had my ear in its mouth at the time. I’m a total moron so my ear being near a horse’s mouth shouldn’t come as a great surprise. Is that a saying? Probably. Anyway, I’ve got my head sideways while this horse is gently clamping my ear, not gently like your nan buttering toast gently, more gently like your Grandad trying to operate a TV remote by smashing it like a piece of good for nothing shit gently. Is that a saying? One of these must be a saying.

My mum loves horses, she used to ride them quite regularly, so I was fairly calm at the time because I knew she’d crack out that crocodile Dundee shit and kind of meditate it into a calm state. Maybe that was plan B, because plan A was smash it in its long face. She just punched it. Just punched a horse right in its face. And it only bloody worked! My ear was unclasped and I was free to put my ears perilously close to other untrustworthy beasts. Oooooh look, a bi-polar otter!

It got me thinking; was this as surprising for the horse as it was for me? I mean, has that horse been punched in the face before? I hope not. Although if it goes around clamping kids ears in its sugar cube pit then it’s probably a bit of a twat so maybe people should punch it more. Imagine it trotting back to the other horses….

“I JUST GOT PUNCHED IN THE FUCKING FACE”

“Yeah alright mate, of course you did”

“I SWEAR TO GOD I JUST GOT PUNCHED IN THE FUCKING FACE”

*Silence

“LOOK, THAT MORON OVER THERE, I WAS JUST EATING ITS EAR WHEN THAT SHE DEVIL TWATTED ME”

*The other