Smorgasbord Short Story Festival and weekly round up – and The Mummy!

Welcome to a slightly shorter round-up this week as I get back into the swing of things after my weekend in London.  You can read all about the day at the 3rd Annual #BloggersBash in my post earlier today: and I hope that next year more of you will be able to join the party.

David came with me for the weekend and we flew by City Jet into London City Airport and if you are travelling to spend the weekend in London then I can recommend this as an airport. Small and easy to navigate and there is a Docklands Light Railway station that links to Bank station and Central line into the heart of the City.

We opted to stay at the Travelodge which to be honest is cheap and cheerful. But we reckoned we were only going to sleep there and at the weekend the airport is on restricted hours meaning you can get some sleep! They were very friendly and the rooms are fine and economical. We spent what we would have on accommodation at central London rates on eating out during our stay… and perhaps the odd G&T!.

Friday night was very nostalgic. We both worked in the Docklands from 1987 to 1996 and when we first started Canary Wharf was still a hole in the ground. The amount of construction in the last twenty years is astonishing and we barely recognised the place. The year that I left to move to another part of the company, a floating Chinese Restaurant opened in the wharf where our office was based. The Lotus is like a paddle steamer and so 22 years after my leaving lunch.. we enjoyed a feast for two… including our favourites Crispy Duck and some Sake…

On Saturday we split up and David headed off to see his brother and family and I headed off to the hugfest in Central London.We had booked to eat at Zedel’s Brasserie in Piccadilly Circus after the #BloggersBash but David sent me a text to get a cab to The Cafe Royale where we downed a couple of G&Ts before heading off to eat.

The weather was sweltering all weekend but we had pre-booked tickets to see The Mummy and after a lengthy walk around Marble Arch and Oxford Street we retired to the air conditioned Odeon.

To be honest I would only give The Mummy 6 out of 10. The movie had some great stunts and special effects but they were linked with a very suspect script. It was not Tom Cruise’s finest work and Russell Crowe spent most of his time mumbling into his beard with a dodgy English accent. The Mummy herself however did a pretty good acting job!  If you like action with little plot then it is worth going to see.

We were not up with the lark but with the first plane taking off at 7.00 on Monday morning. We had breakfast in the airport and a pleasant hour long flight back to Dublin where thankfully we remembered which row we had left the car in at the long term carpark! It was a great weekend with plenty of highlights and I do have one tip for you if you are going to London for sightseeing and are going to use public transport of any kind. Buy an Oyster Card online before you go (can take a while to get to you) or buy at a station. This will save you at least half on your fares and you can use on the Docklands Light Railway, Underground and buses.

I will be updating the directories with all of last week’s posts but I wanted to mention the wonderful writers who took care of Smorgasbord while I was off gallivanting. The Short Story Competition was a huge success and I must also thank Paul Andruss for providing his usual fantastic post on Friday morning.

For those of you who missed the finale of The Stevie Wonder story with William Price King here is the link.

You will find links to all the contributors blogs and social media in their individual stories and if you missed.. here they are.

Thanks to Paul Andruss, Sheila Williams, John Howell, Phillip T. Stephens, Mary Smith, Wendy Janes and Robbie and Michael Cheadle. 

You will also find three of my stories from my previous collection and hope you enjoy.

Thomas the RhymerFrankenstein

Paul Andruss with the background to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Boy with a Harmonica

Sheila Williams with a story set in France during World War II with a supernatural twist.


Sally Cronin –  Meet a man who was the perfect candidate for the job set in the near future.

Saturday 10th June.

The Matmakers

Geoff Cronin – As a boy Geoff befriends the travellers who come to the beach near his home every summer.

The World Darkly

John Howell with a story that makes you rethink your approach to finding lost property!

The Last Emperor

Sally Cronin with a story of redemption and loyalty in the Magic Garden.

Sunday 11th June


Geoff Cronin explains the old country ways of bird catching.

Search and Seizure

Phillip T. Stephens with a futuristic look at border and customs control.

From Hackney to Hollywood

Wendy Janes takes us on the trail to stardom from Shakespeare in Hackney to the chat show sofa in Hollywood.

Monday 12th June

The health benefits of laughter and an invitation to join the academy with your favourite jokes, videos or images.

Sir Chocolate and the Stolen Moon and Stars

Robbie and Michael Cheadle bring us another adventure story starring Sir Chocolate in verse and also Michael’s original concept for the tale.

Trouble with Socks

Mary Smith with a story of how simple things can become very important to us.


Sally Cronin with the story of a woman planning to surprise her husband on his birthday.


My thanks for all your support during the week and over the weekend. Sally

Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th -12th June – Elaine by Sally Cronin

To end the festival I have one of the stories from What’s in a Name volume one. Elaine is looking forward to a very special celebration with her husband and neighbour.

ELAINE by Sally Cronin

Elaine lay under the warmth of the duvet and her hand crept across the mattress to touch her husband’s hand. Not enough to wake him but just a gentle touch to remind him of her presence. Jack’s even breathing and gentle snore was comforting and Elaine smiled to herself, savouring the delicious secret that she was desperate to reveal.

She had been saving up the news until today as a gift for Jack’s birthday. They had been married for two years and she knew that his greatest wish was for them to have a baby. His large family had already provided his parents with six grandchildren and whilst he might not talk about his desire for a family; he wanted to hold their child in his arms almost as much as she did. She had remembered the look on his face when she had thought that she might be pregnant but it had turned out to be a false alarm.

This is why she had waited until she was absolutely sure; today would be the perfect time to reveal the secret.

Jack stirred beside her she turned her face in anticipation of his usual morning kiss on her brow and lips.

‘Good morning my lovely,’ he gently stroked some stray hairs out of her eyes. ‘How are you today?

Elaine smiled at him lovingly and touched the tip of his beautiful nose. ‘Happy birthday my darling,’ and she leant over to kiss his mouth.

Over breakfast they discussed the final details of the birthday party that afternoon. Jack’s family lived too far away to attend but he had asked one of their neighbours from down the street to join them. Jessica was always in and out and would pop in for coffee most mornings when Jack was at work. Sometimes she would also bring her children in at the weekend and they had a wonderful time playing scrabble and cards.

Elaine had butterflies in her stomach as the urge to blurt out her special secret became too much to bear. It had to be the right moment, when Jack was cutting his birthday cake that Jessica had kindly made for him. She was a much better baker that she was and it looked amazing.

Jack had been in the navy when they met and on top of the white and blue cake, a figure in a sailor’s uniform posed with an anchor. Elaine bet the inside of the cake would be delicious and would taste all the better when she announced her news.

After a quick sandwich for lunch and whilst Jack tidied the living room ready for the party, Elaine popped upstairs quietly to their bedroom and sat at the dressing table. She smiled to herself as she viewed her reflection in the mirror. There was no doubt about it; her skin had a definite glow. Artfully she brushed her blonde hair into a smooth bob and applied her makeup carefully. Not too much, but just enough to enhance her youthful beauty. Laid out on the bed were three outfits and Elaine was having problems deciding which to wear.

Jack would always laugh about her preparations for an evening out. He knew she would try on all the options a couple of times before making her final choice.

This kept her busy for the next half hour and eventually she headed downstairs in her favourite cream dress with pearls at her neck and in the lobes of her ears. Jack took her hands and stepped back for a better look.

‘You look stunningly beautiful sweetheart,’ he gently straightened the string of pearls around her neck; they had been his wedding present to her.

Elaine almost gave the secret away at that point but held the temptation in check. Her plan was perfect and she must wait a few more hours until his birthday cake was cut.

Jack left her sat in the lounge surrounded by plates of neatly cut sandwiches and a pile of festive napkins. In the corner on a cabinet sat the cake surrounded by the birthday cards that had arrived over the last two or three days.

Just then the doorbell rang and it startled Elaine as the sound intruded into her secret daydreams. She pushed herself out of the chair and headed for the hall. Jack was coming down the stairs and held out his hand to her.

‘Don’t worry love I’ll get it,’ and he opened the door to find their three guests on the doorstep.

In they came, bearing brightly coloured bags of gifts and contributions to the birthday tea. There was much hugging and chatter as overcoats were dispensed with and they all headed into the living room. Jack and Jessica took the food she had brought into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Sophie and Ben, who were in their early teens, entertained Elaine with tales of their antics at school during the week.

The food disappeared rapidly and two pots of tea later it was time to cut the cake. This was Elaine’s moment and she stood up to join Jack at the cabinet as he prepared to slice into the blue and white icing.

‘Darling, I have a very special birthday present for you,’ she held out the envelope that clearly contained rather bulky contents. Jack smiled at her eager face and proceeded to open the envelope carefully. He drew out the birthday card that had a huge heart on the front and carefully opened it to reveal the surprise. In his hand were a pair of knitted baby booties decorated with white satin ribbon.

Tears formed in the corners of his eyes as he pulled Elaine to him. ‘Thank you darling for the best birthday present I have ever received.’ Over her shoulder he smiled at their guests and they nodded and smiled in return.

Jessica’s children helped clear away the plates and carried them into the kitchen whilst their mother sat on the sofa holding Elaine’s hand. ‘That is wonderful news and I am so happy for the both of you.’ she smiled gently at the woman at her side. ‘We can talk about it on Monday when I pop in for coffee and we’ll get the baby knitting patterns out to look at.’

An hour later and Jessica kissed Elaine on the forehead and gently stroked her cheek. She headed off to the hall and gathered up the coats and handed them out to Sophie and Ben. When she reached the front door, she turned once more and gave Jack a warm hug and whispered in his ear. ‘It was a wonderful birthday tea Dad and I will come in as usual on Monday when you go out to do the shopping.’

Jack went back into the lounge and stood for a moment looking at his wife, sitting calmly watching the flames flickering in the fireplace. The outfit that Elaine had finally chosen was her wedding dress, and she looked as radiant today as she had forty years ago. He sat beside her and gently moved some stray silver hairs from her forehead and took her face in his hands. He looked into her sparkling blue eyes that no longer recognised her daughter or grandchildren.

The most precious birthday present he had received today, was that his beautiful Elaine still knew him, and that even in the darkness, her light continued to shine brightly.

©sallycronin2016 What’s in a Name. At a special price

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Thank you very much for dropping in and I hope you have enjoyed the short stories over the last few days. Sally

Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th – 12th June – Trouble with Socks by Mary Smith

The first short story today as part of this celebration is by Mary Smith from her upcoming short story collection due out later this year. We all have trouble with socks, especially when one of a pair goes walkabout. In this story there is a bigger issue than just one missing sock.

Trouble with Socks by Mary Smith

I’m glad it’s nearly bedtime. It’s been one of those days – the kind that make you wish you’d not bothered getting out of bed in the first place.

Can you believe it, it was a pair of socks which caused the trouble? I was sitting in my room holding them when Margaret came in, clucking and fussing because I hadn’t put them on – telling me I’d get my ‘tootsies’ cold. Considered pointing out I’m fifty-two, not a toddler of two, but sarcasm’s wasted on Margaret. Instead, I explained I hadn’t put the socks on because they weren’t mine. They’d brought the wrong ones back from the laundry. Not, I might add, for the first time either. Today was the third time.

Trouble with Margaret is she never stops to listen. She’s an auxiliary here – a support worker. Been here for twelve years, she told me the day I arrived. She came into to my room to “help me settle” and fill in some kind of admission form. “Now, Mr. Kirkpatrick, what would you like to be called while you’re here – d’you want the full Mr Kirkpatrick bit, or George, or even sir?” She gave a giggle at the sir to show she was joking. I said I’d like to be called George. “Right you are, my darling,” she said.

“My name’s George.”

“Yes, my darling, I know. It’s written it down here on your form.” It was downhill ever since then, really.

Anyway, while I’m pointing out she’d given me someone else’s socks; she asked if I have a problem getting them on. I repeated they weren’t my socks. I did one of these assertiveness training courses once. There’s an exercise called the ‘broken record’ where you just keep repeating the same thing over and over again until the other person gets the message. Only I don’t think our assertiveness trainer had ever come up against someone like Margaret.

Before she finally realised that I was telling her they weren’t my bloody socks, she’d told me that I only had to ask if I needed help in putting them on, commented on what a nice colour they were and assured me, twice, that they were ‘nice and clean’.

It was the ‘bloody’ that got through I think. “Now, now, darling,” she said, “we don’t need language.” Thought about asking how else we were going to communicate – but decided not to confuse the issue since I felt I’d made a breakthrough. She’d got the message.
Triumph was short-lived. She said, “Well, no one else has complained about getting the wrong socks. Why don’t you just keep them, darling?”

By this time I was beginning to feel I am a two-year-old: one that’s about to have a tantrum. This is what I’d been afraid of before coming in here – not the tantrums – being treated like a child, being made dependent on others for everything. I wanted to go straight home from hospital, but they said I needed to gain some weight first, build up my strength. Said I couldn’t manage on my own.

I admit I’d lost a lot of weight when I was ill – some of it in hospital. The food wasn’t great and it was so hot and stuffy I felt I couldn’t breathe most of the time. I couldn’t wait to get out and back home. Trouble is my wee cottage is a few miles out of town and up a farm track and they said it would be difficult to find carers to come out to me. I told them I have friends who would help out but it was clear my choice was to remain in hospital (bed-blocking) or move into a care home for a few weeks.

Apparently I was lucky to get a place in this nursing home – supposed to be the best in the area. God help those in the other places is all I can say.

I managed to stop myself from stamping my feet and told Margaret I didn’t want to keep the socks because I wanted my own. “Are you really quite sure, my darling, that these aren’t your socks?” she said, “I mean, well, how can you tell, with not being able to see?”

Refrained – just – from telling her it’s my sight I’ve lost, not my marbles. Explained how my socks feel different because they are cotton, not acrylic. I’m allergic to acrylic – my legs swell up if I wear man-made fibres. I toyed with the idea of pointing out that even without my sight there are lots of things they would probably prefer I didn’t notice. I can hear perfectly well and sense movements. But I didn’t want to embarrass her. I know Margaret wouldn’t dream of hitching her skirt up to her waist so she can adjust her tights if she thought I could ‘see’ what she’s doing. And that other one, Susie – she’s forever fiddling inside her bra.

It was only because Margaret was determined to have my ‘tootsies’ covered up before she took me into the lounge – after all a member of the public might be there and talk about residents not being properly dressed – that made her go off to search for my socks.

They gave me the wrong jumper once. It only came to my waist and the sleeves stopped at my elbows – felt like the Incredible Hulk or something. Had a hell of a job getting it off. I can cope with some mistakes – everyone makes mistakes sometimes – but there’s something faintly repellent about wearing someone else’s socks. Socks are kind of personal aren’t they? Even when they’re ‘nice and clean’ as Margaret insists.

While I waited for her to come back, I puzzled over why it’s so difficult to get the right clothes back to the right owners – and why the staff can’t seem to see why it matters to us. Hanging on to the few bits of dignity left to us – dressing in our own clothes – becomes really important. I dread the day might come when I’d have to be in residential care permanently. Just put me to sleep, please.

Margaret came puffing back with a pair of socks – my socks. “There’s no elastic in them, George darling,” she says. “D ’you want me to mend them?”

I told her I’d taken the elastic out myself because they were cutting into my ankles. Then we had a tussle over who should put them on. She gave up just as I was about to throw myself on the floor in a rage. If you’re treated like a child, you start to behave like one. So, leaving me to it, very reluctantly – I know they like to think they’re being helpful – she went out. Off to drag some other poor sod along to the lounge for morning coffee, as they like to call it. More like morning dishwater, if you ask me – which they don’t. I drink it anyway, with plenty of sugar and I eat the biscuits – at least three. I’m determined to put weight on as fast as I can. At home I can make coffee the way I like it and I’ll never find anyone else’s socks in my drawer – nor have to sit in a room making polite conversation to a bunch of strangers.

I heard Margaret’s voice outside my room when she came back to collect me. I could picture her making a face in the direction of my door because the other one – might have been Susie – asked, “What’s he rabbiting on about today?”

I heard Margaret reply, “His bleedin’ socks.” Felt like calling out, “Language, Margaret, darling.” But I didn’t.

There is a point beyond which it’s best not to go. Forget the wrong socks – it would probably be old Mr Jones’s underpants tomorrow. Now, that would be really gross, wouldn’t it?

©MarySmith 2017

About Mary Smith

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She longed to allow others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.

Books by Mary Smith

And two Local History books

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Facebook address
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My thanks to Mary for letting us have a taste of her new short story collection and please do share across your own networks.  Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Short Story Festival 9th -12th June – Sir Chocolate and the Stolen Moon and Stars by Robbie and Michael Cheadle.

To delight us this morning, Robbie and her son, Michael Cheadle share their delightful fondant characters in another adventure. This is followed by Michael’s original story that inspired the poem.

Sir Chocolate and the stolen moon and stars

By Robbie and Michael Cheadle

It was an unusually clear and frigid night;
When instantly, out went all the light;
The moon and stars that usually shone;
Where suddenly, and most extraordinarily, gone.

Villagers thronged the street, gazing in shock;
Others hid inside and their doors did lock;
We need some help, they did declare;
To help us resolve this dark nightmare.

Sir Chocolate, our hero, quickly came to the fore;
Little knowing what this adventure held in store;
The stars and moon were very far away;
He prepared to set off the very next day.

A space rocket was what he would need;
To set about this interesting, but difficult, deed;
A giant piece of vanilla cake was just the thing;
His rocket idea, into existence to bring.

Sir Chocolate and his friends worked well and fast;
And soon built a rocket, that into space could blast;
How to power the engines got them into a fix;
Bicarb, cream of tartar and milk was the right mix.

A further shock, however, was quickly to follow;
Which made their rocket success rather hollow;
A note was received from an inventor;
Of this mysterious situation, he was the centre.

He claimed to have stolen the stars and the moon;
If a ransom was paid, he would return them soon;
If he wasn’t paid, he would destroy them forever;
By shooting them into space, with his giant lever.

Sir Chocolate and Lady Sweet clambered on board;
Making sure they had plenty of rocket fuel stored;
They fired the engines and waved goodbye;
As their village disappeared in the blink of an eye.

They sped into space, onwards and up;
There was very little their flight to disrupt;
As they travelled on, the outside world;
Became cloudy with dust, that thickly swirled;

The dust gradually thinned, they could see light;
Right ahead was the moon, shiny and bright;
Sir Chocolate landed the rocket on the surface;
They both alighted, aware of their purpose.

They needed to investigate, find the cloud’s source;
To get everything right and back on its course;
They set off towards the moon flower fields;
What information would the moon babies yield?

These tiny babies, all shimmering and sweet;
Were curled up tightly and deeply asleep;
The man on the moon, with his great cheese head;
Woke up and saw them and got out of bed.

Sir Chocolate told him how the light disappeared;
For a full investigation, our pair were geared;
The moon man nodded and told what he had seen;
He mentioned a recent visitor who was quite mean.

This man had built a secret, underground base;
And moved in quietly with no manners or grace;
The moon man gave directions to this hidden lair;
Our friends set off at once, without turning a hair.

Sir Chocolate tracked it down and they burst inside;
Although Professor Smart quickly tried to hide;
Sir Chocolate took him prisoner and didn’t relent;
Until to behave, Professor Smart did consent.

Professor Smart wanted power, but he learned;
When you gain by deceit, you often get burned;
He decided to repent, and soon confessed;
He explained his plan, this option seeming best.

He’d used a machine to pump sherbet into space;
It was thick, covering everything, leaving no trace;
How to get rid of it, so sweet and white;
Sir Chocolate had an idea, which gave him delight.

The moon babies were awake and out of each bed;
They were rubbing their eyes, looking to be fed;
They all climbed in the rocket, and into space tore;
The babies sucked up the cloud with a giant straw.

The sherbet cloud was swiftly eaten;
And Professor Smart was quite beaten;
The moon and stars could shine again;
And this is how it would remain.

© Robbie and Michael Cheadle 2017

Michael Cheadle’s original story, typed out on Robbie’s computer.


One day in Chocolate land the evil scientist Professor Smartie* said he stole the moon and stars. It was pitch black and all the people where very scared. The people all came to Sir Chocolate for help. Sir Chocolate said he would get the moon and stars back. It was a short time until he tracked down Professor Smartie* on planet fudge. Sir Chocolate travelled to planet fudge to get back the moon and stars. He saw Professor Smartie*’s base under a Flake tree. Sir Chocolate went into Professor Smartie*’s base and he heard Professor Smartie* talking to himself he heard that Professor Smartie* said he blotted out the moon and stars with sherbet.

Sir Chocolate rushed in and said you did not steel the moon and stars. Professor Smartie* said Sir Chocolate would never catch him and tried to get out the door but tripped and fell on the floor Sir Chocolate gave some secret medicine that only Sir Chocolate new how to make it turned him good. They took down his sherbet machine. They got all children to suck up the sherbet cloud and the moon and stars come back.


* Smartie is a registered trade mark

About Robbie Cheadle

Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl”.

Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.

Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books.

Books by Robbie and Michael Cheadle.

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My thanks to Robbie and Michael for their edible and delightful contribution and please feel free to share..

Coming up later today. A story from Mary Smith and one from my last collection What’s in a Name.


Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th – 12th June – From Hackney to Hollywood by Wendy Janes

I am delighted to welcome my next guest Wendy Janes with her contribution to the festival. A story of a rise to stardom that has its roots in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

From Hackney to Hollywood by Wendy Janes

“You’re on in ten, Mr Sullivan.”

I glance up to see the outline of a young woman in jeans and t-shirt standing by the green room bar.

“Can I get you anything?” Her thin arms gesture to an array of refreshments.

“No.” I just wish you’d go away and leave me in peace. I’ve been in interviews all day.

Radio, magazines, blogs, and now telly. You name it, I’ve done it. I’m knackered, and to cap it all, this settee is bloody uncomfortable.

“Oh, OK, sorry.” A look of alarm crosses her elfin face. For one awful moment I fear I must have voiced my thoughts out loud, but then realise my one-word growl had been sufficient to make her think I’m simply one more celebrity jerk.

I hastily add, “No thanks. Very kind of you, I’m fine, thanks,” and flash her one of my award-winning full-on smiles. Her cheeks flush. She really is very pretty … but also very young.

When I started out, these creatures scurrying around with headsets and clipboards, and more recently iPads and tablets, had been my contemporaries, but while I’ve got older, they haven’t. This one – she could only be about nineteen – well, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that in another life I could have had a daughter of her age. I feel protective towards her. I hope she has a family to keep her safe.

Turning away, she busies herself at the bar, tidying up bottles, glasses, plates and bowls left lying around by previous guests this evening. Job done, she perches on edge of the armchair opposite me and says, “If you don’t mind my saying, you look all in.”

“Thanks, precisely the look I’m going for today.” I give her my wry smile this time.

“Must be exhausting being a glamorous Hollywood star, going to all those fabulous parties with famous people, and having to jet first class between England and America.”

“Are you teasing me?”


I like how her playful tone matches mine.

“I’m not flying first class with the Hollywood stars, yet.” I continue to keep things light. I’m aware she doesn’t want to hear how I feel about shallow glitzy parties, soulless hotels, and forever taking crumpled, stale clothes out of a suitcase. Today’s suit has seen better days.

“A long-running series on television over here, and three films in three years in America – you’re getting close,” she says.

“Well, I’ll admit it’s more fun than street theatre in the pouring rain and bit parts on TV.”

“Oh, a bit part would suit me. I’m doing work experience here before I go to drama college.”

Jeez, she’s even younger than I thought.

She tells me about the plays she’s been in at school, how brilliant her drama teacher is, and her hopes for her acting career – stage, not television or film – but she knows she can’t be too choosy. I relax and listen to her chatter. Her naivety is delightful.

“Mum’s been a big fan of yours for years.”

Oh, lordy, she’s making me feel so much older than my forty-three years.

“We saw you the other day in a repeat of that series you used to be in on the BBC. The episode ended with you storming round to your girlfriend’s workplace to have it out with her boss who’d been harassing her.”

I remember that role; I was barely out of my teens, and at the time thought stardom was round the corner. How wrong I was, but my career of waltzing in and saving damsels in distress – on and off screen – dates from then.

“Mum told me she saw that episode first time round. Reckons she’s watched everything you’ve been in. She’s going to see your new film next week with some mates from her book club.”

“Well, please thank your lovely mother for being such a loyal fan. And I hope she and her friends enjoy it.”

The girl giggles and attempts to smooth her wild curls which spring back the moment she lets go. Nadine’s beautiful face from long, long ago flashes before me, but is cruelly snatched away as I’m whisked off by a couple of people wearing headsets, and I find myself sitting on a vast sofa, under the harsh studio lights, answering questions about my latest film, Lying.

Claudia Marshall has been doing this Friday evening slot for years. I know how it goes. You have to give her a chance to show off her knowledge first, then, usually after the clip, she gives you the space to tell one anecdote. I’m not a fan of all the interruptions, the flattery, and the fluttering of her false eyelashes, but, hey, if it gets the job done.

“… the studio re-worked the original book to focus on the men, but the wrangles over the rights and the script meant this film nearly didn’t get made …”

God, that on-off-on-off stuff was a nightmare.

“… out of this stellar ensemble cast, your character is the most complex and talked about.

Now, without giving away the audacious twist at the end, can you tell me, and this lovely audience, a little bit about Billy O’Keefe?”

Ah, my turn.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say Billy is the most talked about role, in fact I think there are other characters in the film who are more controversial.”

“You’re being far too modest. Come on, Ryan, tell us what makes Billy tick?”

“OK, let’s see.” I pretend to think, trying to keep this as spontaneous as I can, despite trotting out the same lines for what must be the tenth time today, the hundredth time this week. “Billy’s an ambitious man, and he’s a romantic. The key to his character, his flaw, is that he loves his wife too much. He’d do anything for her. Literally anything.”

I pause, and Claudia leans in towards me, all eyes and teeth.

“Oh Ryan, I’m sure there are many of us who can only dream of such devotion. But can you explain to us how one reviewer can describe him both as ‘a pushover, the weakest sop on earth’ and ‘a ruthless man who’s determined to get what he wants whatever the cost’?”

“Well, I think it comes initially from the great writing. As soon as I read the part I understood why Billy feels and acts the way he does, and–”

“Is Billy anything like you?” she interrupts.

I rush my reply in order to cover my irritation. “I’m a romantic like Billy, but he’s obsessive, and I’m definitely not. Right at the start of the film Billy says he’s been bewitched by his wife–”

She jumps in again. “Over the years we’ve seen you take on a variety of roles – troubled teen, devoted family man, lovable rogue – but always with a strong love interest. I think I can safely say this is the steamiest film we’ve seen you in.” Claudia does the leg-crossing, cleavage thrust forward pose. “How did you feel about doing the bedroom scenes?”

“Hey, if it’s integral to the plot …”

The audience pick up their cue and are generous with their laughter.

Claudia coaxes more from them. “Yes, we get to see quite a bit of you.”

As the laughter begins to ebb, she continues, “I understand you had no need of a body double, even for the more risqué scenes.”

“At first I considered it, but then after a few sessions at the gym, and I thought, why not, I can do this.”

“I think this clip proves that!”

And there on a huge screen is a man in boxers having a stand-up row with his semi naked, fabulously beautiful wife. The contrast between his tousled black hair against her mane of red looks incredible. The cameraman has captured the smooth curves of her milk-white skin, and I find it difficult to comprehend that the man with the lightly bronzed torso is actually me. The argument has resolved itself in an embrace, and for a moment I can almost believe that long, passionate kiss is real. The film pauses on the close-up, and the applause thunders out.

“Wow! Let’s move from your latest role to your first role, Ryan. I’d now like you to tell us about your first acting experience.” Claudia sits back in her chair, as if to indicate, yes, it’s anecdote time. Your turn.

Nadine’s beautiful face appears again.

“I was fourteen, and I had a huge crush on this girl at school.” I’m not sure why I’m in such a confessional mood, but I need to tell this story. “She was ever so popular, constantly surrounded by her girlfriends.”

I can picture Nadine in the dinner hall, deep in serious conversation with a couple of other girls. Her mass of brown curls framing her face, her left hand reaching up to touch the silver pendant she always wore. It had her initial on it, and she’d slowly run the N back and forth along the chain whenever she felt nervous or was concentrating really hard.

“Well, when I heard she was part of the drama group performing short scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream I went along for the auditions. Not sure how the drama department thought Shakespeare was the right choice for a bunch of kids from Hackney, but anyway I was cast as Pyramus, and this girl as Thisbe in the tragicomic play within the play. I don’t know what I thought I was doing, I hadn’t even read the script properly; I just wanted to be near her. Sounds pathetic, I know.”

“Not at all,” says Claudia. Her voice low.

“The first rehearsal was a nightmare. It was only at this read-through I found out we had to kiss. I really wanted to kiss her, of course, but not on stage in front of everyone. I can still remember the ordeal of sitting round with our scripts, stuttering out the words, ‘O, kiss me through the hole of this vile wall,’ and hearing her reply, ‘I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all.’ Honestly, I’ve never felt more embarrassed in my whole life. It was a valuable lesson learned though, because I’ve never taken on a part since without reading every single word of the script first.”

“Sound advice for all young actors who may be watching,” says Claudia. “So, what happened next?”

“Before I could dash down the corridor never to return, my Thisbe came up to me and suggested we get over our embarrassment by practising so much before next week’s rehearsal that it didn’t feel awkward any more. So we met after school in an empty classroom, and she helped me see the humour in the role, and as soon as I got that, I could do it. By the end of the week, we were totally comfortable and getting quite blasé about the scene, and the kiss. But I still didn’t have the guts to talk to her about anything beyond the play.”

“Sorry, I find it difficult to believe that the handsome, confident hero, Ryan Sullivan could ever have found it difficult to talk to girls.”

“Ah, but I was a shy, fourteen-year-old with a face full of spots.”

In fact I wasn’t even Ryan Sullivan then, I was Ryan Eyre – a name my agent had refused to let me keep and had sworn me to secrecy about. When I told my da, he’d said, “Ye’d have to be a bletherin’ ejit to confuse an airline with an actor.” My ma on the other hand was thrilled I’d chosen her family name.

“So, Ryan, did you and your Thisbe sizzle with on-stage chemistry?”

“If only we’d been given the chance! The day before the next rehearsal, the drama teacher, in her infinite wisdom, decided the play within the play would be re-cast to reflect historical accuracy. In other words – an all-male cast. She tried all sorts of bribery and trickery to persuade me to play Thisbe, and in the end she paid me hard cash. I’m guessing she did the same with the six-foot-two high jumper from the school athletics team who played Pyramus. And we were brilliant, even if I say so myself. Had the audience in stitches, we did. But I could never have done it without that girl’s guidance.”

“This audience won’t forgive me if I don’t ask: did you and the girl ever get together?”

“Alas, no. Her family moved to south London during the summer holidays and I never saw her again. But if she’s out there I’d like to thank her from the bottom of my heart for giving me my first acting lessons and for kick-starting my career.”

“Well, thank you, Ryan, for sharing your bitter-sweet story. Unfortunately that’s all we have time for this evening. So it only remains for me to thank Mr Ryan Sullivan, star of Lying, for being such a charming and witty guest, and I wish you all a good night.”

With the applause from the audience ringing in my ears I’m ushered out of the studio and into a cab to take me through the dark, rainy streets to my last interview of the day.

In a small south London suburb, Nadine sits on the sofa beside her husband watching the credits roll on the 42-inch TV dominating their modest living room. She runs her silver pendant back and forth along the chain around her neck. Throughout the programme she’d seen traces of the teenager she once knew in the middle-aged man now recognised by millions. A smile to cover his shyness, a laugh to hide embarrassment. She knows it shouldn’t still hurt like this. Not after all these years. Not when she’s made a good life with Archie and the kids.

“Bit of a pretty boy, isn’t he, that O’Sullivan bloke,” says her husband.

“Sullivan. There’s no ‘O’.” She fixes her eyes on the screen as if doing so will hold Ryan there.

“Can’t you picture him poncing around in tights doing that Shakespeare stuff.” Archie lets out a big belly laugh. “Wouldn’t catch us doin’ it at our old school. They do it at yours?”

“Nearly, um, well actually…” As she has many times before, Nadine senses she’s on the verge of telling him. She’s filled to the brim, the words are waiting to spill from her. Turning to Archie, she’s about to speak, but as she opens her mouth she sees his attention is focused on his mobile phone.

“Meeting the lads for a pint in The Harrow before the footie tomorrow.” The sofa creaks as her husband hauls himself up.

“Cuppa tea, love?” he says as he lumbers into the kitchen.

“Yeh, thanks,” she replies, unsure whether she feels relieved or thwarted. She thinks of the two younger ones upstairs in their bedroom, and Davina at the TV studio. A flutter of something a little bit like hope quivers in her chest as she wonders if her daughter and Ryan could have met tonight.

“No, you silly woman. Get yourself back to the real world,” she mutters to herself, wrapping her cardi around her and reaching to the pendant round her neck.

Alone in the living room, Nadine allows the familiar waves of longing and regret to sweep through her.

About Wendy Janes

Wendy Janes lives in London with her husband and youngest son. She is the author of the novel, What Jennifer Knows and the short story collection, What Tim Knows, and other stories. She has also contributed short stories to a number of anthologies, including the fundraising anthology, A Kind of Mad Courage.

Her writing is inspired by family, friends, and everyday events that only need a little twist to become entertaining fiction.

As well as writing contemporary fiction, she loves to read it too, and spreads
the word about good books online and in the real world.

Wendy is also a freelance proofreader, and a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service.

Books by Wendy Janes.

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My thanks to Wendy for sharing her story and please share on your own networks.  Coming up tomorrow a story from Mary Smith and one from Robbie Cheadle.

Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th – 12th June – Search and Seizure by Phillip T. Stephens

Delighted to welcome my next guest writer to the short story festival, Phillip T. Stephens with his science fiction contribution with a topical twist.

Search and Seizure by Phillip T. Stephens.

The Jovian Starlines conveyor belt shuttled Faust and Roxanne to the customs counter. The obsequious looking rodent behind the counter held out his hand. “Name?” he squeaked. His whiskers bounced like a see saw when he spoke.

“Roxanne Street,” she said, dropping her HolID into his white-gloved hand. The rat slipped it into the HoloViewer and scanned the data stream cascading down her fully dimensional facsimile.

“What’s that on your shoulder?” he demanded.

“You mean the whip?” Cracked leather strips, braided together in a chord, coiled up her right arm. “It’s an ancient Terran herding device, now worn exclusively for ornamentation.”

The rodent returned her card. “Name?” he asked Faust.

“Goëthe Whip,” cracked Faust, who collected false identities the way other connoisseurs collected fine wines or pre-Twentieth Century artillery. He gave the rodent his voice activated, instantly programmable HolID. Faust kept his invention secret. Cheap Titan clones would flood the inhabitable planets the day after he sold even one on the black market.

“Open your bags,” the officer ordered.

“Why?” Roxanne demanded.

“Drug search. There’s a big market in Auralen 5 right now.”

“I’m tired of your planetary profiling,” Faust said. “Just because we’re Terran, it doesn’t make us drug smugglers.”

“We all came from the same ocean,” Roxanne said, sliding her solar lenses back into her eyelids. “Besides, shouldn’t you be more concerned about terrorists than drugs?”

“We won the war against terrorism. Don’t you listen to Emperor Trump 720? The new war is the war on drugs.”

The clerk waved through three Martians lugging large trunks without even checking their HolIDs. “See what I mean” Faust said. “Why didn’t you search their trunks?”

“Do they look like drug dealers?” the official squeaked.

Roxanne snapped her whip. The whip cracked against the trunk, opening the latch. Particle cannons and subterranean mines clattered across the star port floor. One of the Martians drew his top-spinning quark gun. Roxanne snapped her whip again. He jumped back from the whip, cracked his head against the wall and collapsed to the floor.

The rodent kissed her feet and thanked her for saving his ass. He returned their bags and passed them through.

Back at their apartment, Faust kissed Roxanne and said, “Great decoy, Rox. We’ll be on Saturn before they discover the guns were fake.”

He set up the flash freezer and froze the whip. Roxanne slammed it on the table. The whip cracked. She slammed it again. The whip shattered, spilling out twenty-two grams of crystal Auralen 5, worth seventeen million dollars. Martian dollars.

©PhillipTStephens 2017

About Phillip T. Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens, a professional educator and writer who developed a number of innovative classroom programs for exceptional and at-risk youth, drew on his own experiences as a minister’s son being frequently moved to new schools as well as those of his students to write Seeing Jesus. He and his wife carol rescue and rescue cats in Austin, Texas for

He is author of Seeing Jesus. A humorous, coming of age story, suitable for Christmas reading, Seeing Jesus introduces young readers to questions of spirituality and philosophy they might not otherwise find the opportunity to explore.

A selection of books by Phillip T. Stephens.

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My thanks to Phillip for his contribution to the short story fest and for keeping you entertained in my absence. Please check out his books and share thank you Sally.

Coming up this afternoon a story from Wendy Janes – From Hackney to Hollywood.


Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th – 12th June – Tales from the Garden – The Last Emperor by Sally Cronin

For the next story in the festival I am sharing one of mine from The Tales from the Garden volume one.

The Last Emperor by Sally Cronin

High above the garden our feathered cousins soar on the updrafts caused by the scorching summer heat on the peaks and valleys of our mountain. They search diligently for their preferred prey which is anything that dares to fly beneath them or scuttle out of the undergrowth in search of food.

Majestically they accomplish what we cannot and have never been able to. From our place guarding the main entrance into the building that now stands on this ancient site, we watch enviously with our own wings fixed in stone.

We are the last of the stone eagles that have watched over this magical place. The first were made by a slave of the Roman merchant who built his villa on this mountain over eighteen hundred years ago. He and his countrymen had swept across and settled on the now peaceful sunlit Iberian Peninsula after many centuries of war. He supplied olives, figs and grapes to his fellow Romans and delivered casks of wine to the garrison of soldiers in the camp down by the river. He was a rich man with many slaves collected and bartered during the long journey from the coast to this central part of Spain.

For two hundred years the merchant’s family prospered and enjoyed the life so far from their original home. The skill of stone carving was passed down from the original slave to his sons and their grandsons as the seasons rolled through the decades. But then it all changed as the Visigoths invaded from the north and violence once more shattered the peace of the land.

The merchant’s family left and retreated back towards the south and eventually began a new life far away. Slaves were left behind in the panic, but being essential to work the land, were allowed to settle on farms and in small villages. But the stonemason of that time remained in the crumbling ruins of the old villa and built a modest dwelling where he continued to work and pass on his craft.

Finally his large family scattered across the surrounding area as towns and cities lured them away from the rural life. But always one remained to learn the trade and instruct another to take his place. The very last stonemason who had no sons, crafted us before he died, and as he smoothed our stone wings and hid us within the leafy folds of the boundary hedge, he muttered final words to us.

“Wait for the last Emperor, he will come and find you.”

We waited and the protective hedge grew around us. The stonemason’s humble home crumbled in the heat and snow filled winters, until it too joined the grand remains of the Roman villa beneath the soil.

Finally, fifty years ago, the sound of modern machinery woke us from our sleep and we watched between the large green leaves of the hedge as a new villa emerged in front of us. We heard human voices for the first time in many years and the sound of laughter as children played in the gardens.

But still we waited.

Thirty-five years passed and the children grew and left the home leaving an elderly couple rattling around its vast empty rooms. Soon they too left and all was quiet again.

One bright morning, as we lay in our hiding place, we were startled and shocked by the sudden intrusion of a long canine nose that pushed aside our overgrown covering. We stared into a pair of eyes that sparkled gleefully upon us. From this creature’s mouth came forth a high penetrating noise; enough to awaken even us stone bound creatures. Two human hands reached around the canine and pulled him gently back by his dark purple, imperial collar. They then returned and each one of us was lifted clear of the entwining stalks and leaves and we were placed in the sunlight for the first time in over a hundred years.

I won’t go into the indignity of being cleaned with brush, soap and hot water in places left untouched since our stonemason fashioned us. But finally we were pristine again and placed on our ledge to guard the house as was our duty.

We remembered what our old master had said as he had hidden us from sight. And, within a short time, we knew indeed that the last Emperor had arrived, as he came before us wearing his wreath of office and informed us of his imperial title of Moyhill Royal Flush. We and his courtiers were permitted to call him Sam, but only in private.

Our joy was beyond comprehension as the prophecy was fulfilled and we took pride and delight in guarding our new master. We remained alert over the next many years as our Emperor roamed the grounds on his daily inspection, supervised the garden workers and reigned over his house slaves.

Each night he would hold court from the front balcony of the villa listening to his canine subjects in the valley as they recounted the day’s events in his domain. He would wait until they had completed their report and then respond for several minutes, encouraging them to be vigilant and valiant.

He would then wait for his house slaves to bring him ice cubes to cool his parched tongue and platters of his royal repast in the form of chicken gizzards and sweet smelling Basmati rice.

We, as his loyal cohorts were not forgotten. As he passed us each day he would delicately sniff our bodies to check our health, and if he felt we were dehydrated, he would anoint us with his regal blessing.

We treasured our role as his elite royal guard and although, to our great sadness, he has now passed from our sight, we still stand sentry over him today. It is in a place where he can continue to view his great domain and listen to his many canine minions in the valley below. The last emperor has left his mark on this place, on us and on his people and will never be forgotten.

©Tales from the Garden 2015

Tomorrow we have two short stories from Phillip T. Stephens and Wendy James and I hope you will pop in to read and enjoy.


Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th – 12th June – The World Darkly by John W. Howell.

I am delighted to welcome John Howell to the festival with his short story The World Darkly.

The World Darkly
By John W. Howell © 2017

Frank is cycling on the beach and sees something shining in the sand. He hopes it might be of value, but is disappointed since it is only a pair of sunglasses. He gets off the bike and picks them up. He turns them over and notices they are finely made not like the usual junk people throw away. He finally opens them and on the inside of one of the ear pieces are the words The World Darkly in gold. Must be the slogan, he thinks. Frank looks around to see if anyone has noticed him pick them off the beach. There is only an old couple pretty far away walking in his direction. He wonders if they are coming back to get them. Frank is worried. He stuffs them into his parka pocket and continues the ride. Before he gets home; he is having second thoughts, and maybe he should turn the glasses into the police. He decides against it. “Finder’s keeper’s loser’s weepers;” he tells himself.

After a hot dog dinner, Frank suddenly remembers the glasses in the pocket of his parka in the closet. He gets them and puts them on in front of his mirror in his bedroom. To his surprise, he cannot see himself through the lenses and whips them off to make sure it is not he who has disappeared. This is strange; he thinks and puts the glasses on again. Although he cannot see himself, he is able to see some unusual symbols crawling around the inside of the lens. They are moving quickly, and Frank touches the top of the frame since he thinks it might be a good idea to take these things off.

As his finger meets the frame, the symbols stop moving. Removing his finger causes the symbols to begin crawling again. “I can control them,” he says. Then he repeatedly touches the frame and then not. He is convinced this is the movement that controls the movement of the symbols. He also experiments and sees that a light touch slows the symbols and a heavy touch stops them. Frank does not know what the symbols mean, but he is glad that they are under his control.

Frank takes the glasses off and reaches for his phone. His parents gave him an iPhone, so he decides he is going to look up one of the symbols on Google to see if there is an answer. He touches Safari and types in the symbol that he remembers which is a T. The answer comes back quickly that T stands for AT&T and it is the symbol for the New York Stock exchange information on the company. He sees that the stock is priced at thirty-three dollars and twenty-one cents. He does not understand any more of the information but is satisfied that the found out what the symbols mean. He will test others later, but for now, he is satisfied he has broken the code.

Frank puts the glasses back on and sees that the symbols are crawling past again. He slows them down until he comes to T once more and stops. Underneath T, there is what looks like a price and a fraction. The price below T is thirty-five and seven eights. In high school, he learned that seven eights are almost one so he is assuming the stock is priced at almost thirty-six dollars. That can’t be right, he thinks. I just looked on Google, and the price was Thirty-three dollars and twenty-one cents. Maybe these numbers on the glasses aren’t prices.

He sees a day and date in the upper right-hand corner. The day is Thursday, and the date is February fourteenth, twenty-seventeen. Frank quickly removes the glasses. Today is Wednesday, February thirteenth and he suddenly realizes these glasses are telling him information about tomorrow. He puts them back on and finds T again. “Sure enough,” he says. “This number is the price tomorrow.” He scans for more information, and in addition to stock prices, he also sees there are news headlines.

The headline jumping out at him contains the information about one winning ticket sold for the Mega Millions jackpot. Further, the story identifies the prize as five hundred million dollars. He is able to scroll down like he did with the stock symbols and comes to the winning numbers. He picks up a pencil and writes the numbers on the back of a paper bag found on his dresser; 3-4-5-18-22-31. Frank is about ready to bust knowing these are the winning numbers for tonight’s drawing. Although he doesn’t know how he has the winning numbers. He looks at his watch and knows he must hurry in order to get to the convenience store to enter the drawing. He curses taking so long to look at the glasses until so late.

He jumps into his car and heads to the convenience store cursing the whole way at the slowness of other drivers. He finally slides to a stop at the store, rushes in and grabs a ticket to fill out. “Where’s a pencil?” he says. The girl behind the counter points to one on a chain. He writes the numbers and hands the slip and a dollar to the girl.

“It is after eight o’clock. Drawings close at eight.”

“Damn. Can’t you make an exception? I will make it worth your while.”

“I’m sorry the machine locks up at eight, and no more tickets can be issued.”

“Wait,” he thinks. I can still use the glasses to score some cheap stocks next week and the Texas Lotto on Tuesday. Frank tells the girl she will be sorry when she reads about him in the newspaper. She gives him a puzzled look, and he leaves the store deep in thought. Frank is not paying attention and steps in front of a car whose driver does not see him in the glare of the lights. He is hit and rolls into the bushes in front of the store and smashes his head on the brick facade. Frank is no longer of this world

After the police and EMS leave, a car pulls up to the front of the store. The driver gets out and sees something shining in the bushes. He goes to investigate and picks up a pair of sunglasses. He looks at them and runs his finger on the gold embossed words The World Darkly on the earpiece. He looks around to see if anyone is watching and then stuffs them into his jacket pocket. He wonders if he should turn them in, but decides he should not.

“Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers,” he says. He thinks no one heard him.

©Johnwhowell 2017

About John W. Howell.

John’s main interests are reading and writing. He turned to writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive career in business. John writes thriller fiction novels and has a number of short stories published in various on-line magazines. One of his short stories has been recognized by Writers Digest in the Popular Fiction Writing contest.

His novel, My GRL published by Martin Sisters Publishing and is the first of many exciting adventures of the book’s central character John J. Cannon. The second, His Revenge published by Keewaydin Lane Books is now available in Paperback and Kindle formats. He has recently published the third book in the series, Our Justice.

John has a wonderful blog where he entertains with short stories and also shares the changing face of his world along the coast of Texas.

John’s books

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My thanks to John for contributing this great story to keep you entertained while I am away.

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I would be grateful if you would share John’s short story on your own networks and thank you for dropping in today. Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Short Story Festival – 9th June – 12th June – Albert the Perfect Candidate by Sally Cronin

I am off to the #BloggersBash and making a weekend of it in London including going to see The Mummy and a visit to TGI Friday’s for some Fajitas….probably with a margherita… or two.  In the meantime I am going to leave you with some entertainment… I hope you will enjoy and please share the guest authors who have contributed stories.. thanks very much Sally.

Welcome to the start of the Smorgasbord Short Story Festival from today until Monday 12th. We have short stories and poetry from some wonderful writers including John Howell, Robbie Cheadle, Mary Smith, Philip T. Stephens, Wendy Janes and a few more from me from various collections.

Here is one from my first collection Flights of Fancy. Set a little time in the future.. but not by much!

Albert, The Perfect Candidate by Sally Cronin

On Friday night, Albert sat in the white walled room, his eyes closed against the glare from the fluorescent lighting and his hands over his ears to shut out the infernal racket from the wall-mounted television. He did not have to watch the screen to see what images it displayed. Twenty-four hours a day, it brought the fear and disasters of the world into each room in every house and workplace around the country. Terrorism, financial and natural catastrophes and of course superbugs were all guaranteed to make the headlines. He shook his head. Where did all the ‘good news’ stories go?

His mobile telephone had rung several times in the last hour and he knew that it was Marjorie, his partner, no doubt reminding him for the fiftieth time that he must not be late for dinner.

He opened his eyes, switched off his phone and thought about the pile of folders still unopened on his desk. There was also an e-mail from his boss demanding that he should be in his office first thing on Monday morning. Why do they do that? Under normal circumstances Albert would have spent the whole weekend desperately worried in case he was going to be fired. He had every reason to be stressed out anyway – he was late with this month’s mortgage payments, his doctor had told him his cholesterol and blood pressure were through the roof and his blood sugar was not far behind.

He didn’t need the doctor to tell him he was six stone overweight, needed to give up smoking and drinking and was a candidate for a heart attack. He only had to look at his face in the mirror every morning to see that he fell neatly into the 95% of the population who suffered from a lifestyle induced health crisis.

Everyone he knew amongst family and friends was equally unfit. Most of them were on pills of one sort or another and it seemed that once you were put on medication you were on it for life. Sure, most of the major diseases had been eradicated in the last fifty years, but it was easier and quicker to give you tablets to control your blood pressure and cholesterol than go to all the trouble of showing you how to change your lifestyle.

Anyway, what pleasure was there in life if you couldn’t eat a whole pizza with a bottle of wine two or three nights a week? Besides Albert hated fruit and vegetables. Who needed to stand out in a crowd? When all your friends and family and even your doctor were fat and unhealthy too, why change? Still, he wished he could remember a time when he had felt well enough to get up in the mornings.

He looked around him and smiled wryly. At least in one very important aspect he had been extremely successful. He was a perfect example of modern man and this was precisely what they had wanted. All his financial problems would be solved now that he had been accepted into the programme. Marjorie would be well taken care of should the worst happen, and best of all, he was contracted not to make any improvements to his lifestyle for the duration of his lifetime. Bring on the Pizza!

Animal testing had finally become redundant. Eventually it became impossible to recreate, in animals, the levels of physical, mental and emotional stress that humans suffered after prolonged exposure to their modern lifestyle and diet. Scientists could no longer manipulate the gap between species to obtain reliable test subjects without compromising the safety of human trials. Medical records were accessed, and from the millions of suitable candidates, the most qualified specimens were recruited.

The door opened and two lab technicians wearing masks and surgical scrubs walked in wheeling a trolley containing medical instruments.

“Hi Albert,” one of them smiled at him. “This is not going to hurt a bit.”

© Sally CroninFlights of Fancy 2008 :

Tomorrow – the new serialisation of the second book by Geoff Cronin. Followed by two short stories from John W. Howell and one from my second collection The Tales From the Garden.

Thanks for popping in and please feel free to share.. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Short Stories Festival – 9th – 12th June – Boy with a Harmonica – France 1943 – by Sheila Williams

I am delighted to welcome Sheila Williams to the festival with a story taken from her latest collection The Siren and other Strange Tales. Six short stories spanning the twentieth century and each with a spooky twist.

Boy with a Harmonica – France 1943 – by Sheila Williams

They came silently, stealthily down the mountain-side and into the gloom of the forest, pausing and listening before creeping through the soft carpet of leaf mould and pine needles. They were used to the sounds of the forest; the rustle of tiny night creatures in the undergrowth, the gentle step of a deer delicately picking its way through the trees, the murmur of sleepy pigeons roosting in the branches overhead. That night they heard no sounds that did not belong.

At the edge of the forest they paused again, three shadows in the night. The woods encircled an ancient stone farmhouse built on a plateau half way up the mountain-side. The smell of wood smoke from its chimney drifted towards them. They waited and watched for the signal.

A glimmer of light appeared at an upper window of the farmhouse. It remained for a few moments, glowing in the dark before it was extinguished. The three ran swiftly across the small meadow between the forest edge and the farmhouse, ducking and weaving, hearts pounding.

Three taps on the weather-beaten door. It opened and they filed in. One of the men, the leader – tall, fair-haired, with an intelligent face – nodded to the old man standing in the doorway who led them into the kitchen. He pointed to the scrubbed table in the middle of the floor where bread, dried sausage and wine waited for them. Exhausted, cold and starving the three men fell upon the food, devouring it with quick sharp bites. No words passed. In the shadows of the room the old man’s wife busied herself between the deep stone sink and huge fireplace where she was heating up water for coffee. Every so often, she stopped to peer anxiously out of the window over the sink.

Eventually the leader spoke.

‘What news from the village?’

The old man shrugged.

‘They’re everywhere. You’re mad to come here.’

‘Where else should we go mon père?’

‘You were ambushed?’

‘We were. Someone was careless…or is collaborating. The Bosche were waiting for us.’ He shook his head. ‘I don’t know how many of us got away. We won’t stay long. It’ll be dawn soon and we’ll be off.’

In the village at the foot of the mountains the inhabitants were awakened by the snarl of engines and rumble of wheels. Two German army trucks pulled up alongside the village square. Soldiers tumbled out of the back of them and immediately searched the village.

Banging on house doors with gun butts, they pushed and shoved everyone into the square. There, the villagers huddled together, shivering in the chill air; silent, watchful and afraid. Among them was Jean Fourrier, the butcher; a big man in his forties, wide strong shoulders and a belly that hung over the broad belt around his waist. He stood a little apart from the others, thumbs hooked into his belt watching the soldiers.

At the edge of the huddle was the Boy, shifting nervously from foot to foot. His name was Christophe but everyone called him the Boy. An orphan, he lived, supposedly, with an elderly aunt but, like a cat, he came and went as he pleased roaming the woods and mountains around the village, returning only when hunger drove him. He was different from the other boys. Some dismissed him as simple-minded – perhaps because of his stuttering speech. However, they were wrong. In his head his thoughts and ideas jostled and raced for expression and perversely, tied his tongue in knots. He loved the country around him. He knew intimately the forest tracks, the grey mountain rocks, the hidden places where he sat watching the birds and dreaming his music – for the Boy had a passion and a rare talent. He took the sounds of the land, of animals and birds, of voices, of everything around him and, with his harmonica, captured them, blending them into cascades of sweet notes that rippled down the mountain side and filled the valley. He carried the harmonica with him everywhere.

He waited at the edge of the square watching as the search continued and the soldiers looted the houses bringing out food, blankets even clothing to be loaded onto the trucks.

‘Bad’ he muttered, ‘bad, bad men.’

At that moment, a German officer approached the huddle, searching for the one face he knew.

‘You’ he pointed to Jean the butcher, ‘Come with me.’

Jean stepped forward. Without waiting, the officer walked back to the truck. Jean obediently followed.

‘What is that place, up there?’ and the officer pointed to the farmhouse whose outline showed faint in the grey of pre-dawn light.

‘It’s my brother’s farm’ Jean replied.

‘Why would there be smoke from the chimney at this time?’

Jean shrugged.

‘He gets up early your brother?’

‘I suppose so.’

The Boy shuffled closer to the truck where the two men were speaking. He could not hear all the words but he picked out their tones. He was puzzled. They gave out a false note…as if they were reading from a script. He shook his head. But he saw where the officer pointed and knew the farm. He liked the old man and his wife, they were kind to him. He knew too, of other men, hiding in the mountains, who visited the farm now and again. He recognised some of them, especially the tall fair one who used to live in the village. He was kind to him too. He frowned, still puzzled. He heard the officer say loudly

‘Well, it’s time to pay your brother a visit.’

Now the Boy recognised the tone – menacing – and he knew what he had to do. All the while watching the soldiers, he backed slowly and carefully away from the truck until he reached the wall of the church that formed one side of the square. He pressed himself into the shadows, slipped quietly across the narrow alley way at the back of the church to the small churchyard. There he dodged between the gravestones until he came to the furthest corner from the village. He readied himself to leap the small wall that encircled the churchyard when a dog set up a frenzied barking. He froze. He heard shouts. Torch lights flashed, outlining his pale face.

‘There, over there.’

Knowing he had been spotted, the Boy leapt the wall and ran like a hare for the track through the woods. He stopped once to look back, saw the flash of torchlights and heard the crash of boots.

‘Oh no, oh no’ he mewed and continued to run until he arrived almost at the place where the three men had emerged from the woods earlier. There he collapsed. The soldiers found him sitting on a tree stump, shivering and, between gulping sobs, playing his harmonica – loud, strident, fretful bursts of notes. One of the soldiers snatched the harmonica and back-handed the Boy twice across the face. He stared up at them with wide hurt eyes, a trickle of blood curled slowly down his chin. The soldiers gestured with their rifles towards the farmhouse and marched him across the meadow.

The old lady in the farmhouse watched from the window. The three men sat around the table slumped in a stupor of fatigue. Suddenly she leaned closer to the window, peering across to the woods. She gestured to her husband.

‘Lights, I saw lights in the wood.’

The old man pushed the window open and stared hard.

‘Ssh, do you hear something?’

The men at the table stirred, shaking off their sleep.

‘What is it, mon père?’

‘Ssh, listen.’

The sound of the harmonica cut through the still air.
‘It’s the Boy, Christophe’ the leader said. ‘A warning. We must go. Make everything tidy, maman.’

Giving her a quick hug and kiss, he and his companions ducked out through the back door and disappeared once again into the forest.

In the village, the officer watched his two men running after the Boy. He took out a cigarette holder, carefully inserted a dark, thin cigarette, lit it, inhaled and remained silent for a minute or two. Finally he spoke to Jean.

‘Who was that?’

‘It looked like the Boy, Christophe he’s called. He’s an odd lad, a bit simple and harmless.’

‘Maybe, maybe not.’ The officer shouted to his men. ‘Back in the trucks six of you. The rest stay here, make sure no-one else leaves the village.’ He turned to the huddle still waiting in the square. ‘You peasants, you can return to your hovels. Anyone caught trying to leave will be shot.’

‘And me? Should I stay here?’ Jean asked.

‘No, you come with us to the farm. After all you still want your brother’s fat cattle don’t you?’

Dawn was breaking and slashes of pink and silver ripped through the dark grey sky as the truck lurched along the stony road out of the village. Halfway along, Jean pointed to the cart track leading up to the farm and the driver swung the truck onto it. They pulled up in the farmyard, the men spilled out. Jean remained in the truck.

‘Search everywhere’ the officer commanded before sauntering to the farmhouse door. He knocked politely but walked straight in.

‘Good morning my friends. You are up early.’

The old couple stared at him.

‘I believe you have had visitors? Where are they? Please save us all time and trouble.’

The couple remained silent.

The officer laughed.

‘Well I can wait until you’re ready to talk. We need to wait for the others anyway.’

The old man stepped forward.

‘I don’t understand sir.’

‘Oh, I believe you do.’ The officer sat in a black oak chair at the head of the table. ‘Some coffee?’ he nodded towards the old woman. She took the pot off the stove and poured a small cupful.

Outside, as the men rampaged through the barn and around the back of the house, Jean climbed out of the truck. He headed for the barn where his brother had three fat bullocks, ready for slaughter. They would fetch him a good price on the black market. He saw the Boy and the soldiers emerge from the woods and cross the meadow. The Boy stumbled as one of the soldiers pushed him along with his rifle butt.

The officer emerged from the house.

‘Everyone seems to be up and about early this morning and it bids to be a fine day.’

The Boy, still making quiet little mewing noises, stared at Jean as the officer waved his hand and said, ‘You, Mr Butcher-man may take those beasts you told me about and leave.’
Jean, unable to meet the Boy’s gaze hurried past him, head down.

‘J…Ju…Judas’ the Boy hissed because now he fully understood the treachery that had taken place.

‘Shall we all go inside’ the officer gestured to his men. One of them stepped forward and held out the harmonica. On seeing it, the Boy cried out and reached for it.

‘Ah so that was it’ the officer nodded. ‘A signal, a warning. A bold idea, Boy but you will never play this again.’ He threw the harmonica to the ground. Again the Boy cried out.

Back in the house the officer seized the old man.

‘Where have they gone, the Maquis scum? Where are they?’

‘Who sir, I don’t understand.’

The officer gestured to one of his men.

‘Bring her here’
The soldier dragged the old woman across the room, twisting her arm up behind her back. She gave a little moan of pain, soon bitten off.

‘Now for the last time, old man, where did they go?’

Imperceptibly, the woman shook her head.

‘I don’t under…’ the old man began but before he finished speaking the officer whipped out his pistol, put it to the woman’s head and pulled the trigger. The Boy wailed and rocked from side to side.

‘Yes, you have something to say?’ The officer asked him.

The Boy shook his head, closing his lips firmly.

The officer aimed his pistol at the old man. He pulled the trigger. The old man fell backwards to the floor. ‘Now it is just us, Boy.’

For an hour the officer tortured the Boy, finally leaving him tied to a chair, fingers broken, his face a bloody pulp, his body scorched with burns. The officer left neither knowing nor caring whether the Boy was still alive.

‘Torch it, burn it all’ he ordered as he climbed back into the truck.

Once the Germans left, the village people, in ones and twos, emerged from their homes. Grim-faced they stared up the mountain side to the farmhouse where they saw thick plumes of black smoke and heard the crash of falling timbers. In the evening a few of the men walked to the farm. Heat from the fire radiated towards them as they approached and fine grey ash swirled about in the evening breeze, powdering their faces. The building still smouldered and smoked. The roof had collapsed inwards and all the windows blown out with the heat. Here and there a flicker of flame licked around a length of fallen timber, flaring up momentarily as the breeze caught it. There was no chance of entering the ruins that night.

The following morning and in anticipation of the horror to come, the men took a donkey and flat cart, loaded with sacking up to the farmhouse. They set about their macabre task of finding the corpses – no-one was in any doubt that there would be corpses to find. They recovered three charred bodies from the ashes and gently loaded them onto the cart. As they worked one of the men spotted Jean the butcher approaching. He alerted the others and they all stopped their grisly work. Jean ignored them. He stood silent in front of the burnt-out ruin, covering his nose and mouth with his hand. He scuffed at the ashes and kicked the discarded harmonica. He picked it up, studied it a moment and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

‘They made me bring them here. I couldn’t refuse’ his voice was rough and aggressive. ‘I didn’t know this would happen’ he shouted, ‘I swear it.’

The men ignored him. They covered the bodies and led the donkey back to the village. As they left one of the men spat in front of Jean and snarled, ‘I see you’ve got your brother’s bullocks in the field by your slaughterhouse. I hope it was worth it.’

Jean the butcher set off with his gun to try for a deer or even some rabbits up in the woods. Meat was scarce and his trade had dwindled away. The villagers refused to bring their pigs or sheep to his slaughterhouse and other sources of meat were hard to find. Although he had done well on the black market from the sale of his brother’s bullocks, now, Jean struggled to make a living.

As he walked up through the woods he found himself on the path running towards the burnt-out farmhouse. He crossed the meadow to the ruin. He poked around amongst the debris and rank weeds, His nephew, the Maquis leader, had not been seen since the day of the tragedy. Jean wondered if he was still alive. ‘If not, I’ll claim this land as my own.’
Suddenly he got a feeling that he was being watched. He spun round. There was no-one there. He heard a slight rustling and little clouds of ash puffed up around him. He shivered.

‘Who’s there?’

Silence. Uneasy, he left the ruin behind him.

All that day Jean could not shake off the disquieting feeling of being watched and followed. He returned, empty-handed, to his cottage at the edge of the village.

Jean was not a man given to great imagination nor was he of a nervous disposition. Yet, in the following weeks he was unable to free himself of the sense of someone-or something watching him. Wherever he went he felt a presence near him. He was afraid. Every shadow threatened danger.

One night Jean awoke sharply. He shivered in the icy cold of his dark bedroom. A strange smell – acrid, smoky – hung in the air yet there was no fire in the house. Fumbling on the night stand for matches, he lit the candle he left there. In its flickering glow he peered fearfully around the room. In one corner where he hung his clothes, his jacket swayed gently on its hook.

‘Ha! Must have left the window open’ he muttered, trying to convince himself that all was well, yet knowing that he would never open the window on a winter’s night. He got out of bed, went to the window and, as expected, it was tightly shut. As he stood there the smell of smoke grew stronger. In the reflection of the panes he saw a dark shadow standing behind him. Forcing himself to turn around he let out a terrified scream. In front of him, emitting little puffs of smoky sooty breath was the charred and blackened figure of the Boy.

‘No, no’ cried Jean holding out his hands as though to ward off the apparition. ‘What do you want with me? It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t…know. What do you want with me?’

The Boy came close to the terrified butcher. The stench of smoke and scorched flesh enveloped Jean and he collapsed to the floor, senseless.

The first rays of a thin wintry sun pierced the bedroom window when Jean revived. At first he wondered how he came to be lying on the floor before remembering the visitation. He shuddered.

‘No, no it was all a bad dream’ he mumbled dragging on his clothes. As he pulled on his trousers he trod in a little heap of something grey and powdery on the floor. He bent over and rubbed a finger into it. His normally ruddy face paled. The powder was ash.

From that day Jean Fourrier the butcher became a haunted man. His confident stride diminished to a hesitant creeping shuffle. He muttered and mouthed constantly to himself. Sometimes, when walking through the village, he stopped and, looking over his shoulder, he would shout, ‘I see you. Go away. It wasn’t my fault I tell you.’

He lost weight; the fat belly melted away until his belt slipped uselessly to his ankles. He locked himself in his house, slumped in a chair in the kitchen drinking away the days.

Winter took a firm hold and the distant Pyrenees were glazed with brilliant white snow. In the forests sere brown leaves and pine needles tinged with frost formed a soft-rustling carpet. Usually Jean kept to his cottage but on one day of sunshine he ventured into the village, creeping along, peering behind him, mumbling, drooling a little. When he returned to his home he opened the door, rushed inside and locked it with bolts and keys. In the kitchen he gave a long wail of despair. Cupboard doors and drawers gaped open, their contents strewn on the floor. Crockery and glasses smashed, tins bent and battered. He ran upstairs. Here too, in his bedroom all was ransacked. The bed and mattress tipped over, his clothes ripped off their hooks and torn out of drawers and everywhere a trail of powdery ash. Jean wailed again, banging his head with his fists.

‘What? What is it you want of me? What?’

In one corner of the room a dark shadow, slowly took the shape and form of the Boy. It moved towards Jean…

‘Please no! Go away. I’m sorry; I tell you I’m sorry. There was nothing to be done.’

In reply, the Boy lifted his poor broken hands and cupping them across his mouth blew soft smoky breaths into them. Suddenly Jean understood.

‘I have it’ he cried, ‘I’ll get it for you.’

He wrestled with a floorboard in front of the window, prising it free. He drew out a tin and searched feverishly through its contents. His hand trembled as he held out the harmonica. The Boy grasped it, put it to his mouth and blew a long jarring blast. The sound struck terror deep into Jean’s soul. He covered his ears,

‘Don’t’ he whimpered, ‘I can’t bear it. I can’t bear any of it anymore.’

The Boy blew another screeching, grinding note. Jean fled downstairs; the discordant notes of the harmonica filled his head. He ran out to his slaughterhouse. Inside, he went straight to the butcher’s table with its thick scarred top where his knives were laid out in a neat row. He picked up the slender filleting knife, bent back his head and slashed the knife across his throat.

From time to time, in the stillness of a spring morning or the cooling evening of summer, a soft, gentle cascade of notes floats on the air, drifting through the forest to the village below and the villagers stop work to listen and those who remember nod wisely and say,

‘That’s the Boy with a harmonica.’


©SheilaWilliams 2017

Two of the early reviews for the Siren and other Strange Stories.

This collection is a perfect choice for those short moments of literary respite – the coffee break, the train journey and the like. They are easy to read, brimming with twists, turns and intrigues and for some readers, quite thought provoking. The description and scene setting in the Siren was particularly good. That plus Toussaint and Boy With The Harmonica were my favourites.

Entertaining.  By C. H. on 22 May 2017

Does exactly what it says on the cover, delivers six supernatural stories that kept me reading. Enjoyed all of them, but particularly The Siren, The and Boy With The Harmonica. All six stories are economically told, and entertaining. Good value for money, I think.

Buy the book:

Also by Sheila Williams.

Read the reviews and buy both books:

About Sheila Williams.

Sheila Williams, author, slipped into this world on Guy Fawkes night, under cover of fireworks and bonfires. Outraged to find other nurslings in the nest, she attempted to return to her own world but found the portal closed.

Adopting a ‘make the best of it’ attitude she endured a period of indoctrination to equip her for her place in society. This included learning a language that no-one ever speaks and making complex calculations of no perceivable value.

Freeing herself as soon as possible from such torture, she embarked on a series of adventures – or to  use the vernacular – careers; hospital manager, business consultant, life coach, sheep farmer. She attempted to integrate into society by means first of marriage and then partnered before setting out alone to discover another world, known as France, where she now resides.

Always fascinated by these humans amongst whom she dwells, she has developed an interest in psychology, magic, the supernatural, ghosts, Ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. Dark thoughts and black humour lurk within her.

In her quest to understand this world she pursues knowledge of its history; not of kings and queens but of its ordinary people and how they lived and worked. To this end, she haunts events such as boot fairs, vide-greniers and sales rooms where many ancient artefacts can be uncovered.

She lives without the box of sound and pictures known locally as television and hence her already limited social skills are further curtailed not having a clue who came dancing with whom or who had talent…or not. She does however have access to something called DVDs and hibernates over winter with a large stack of them. When spring arrives she may be found cherishing the plants in her garden, whistling with the birds and holding deep meaningful conversations with the resident toad who, one day, she hopes may turn into her prince and keep her in the manner to which she would like to become accustomed
Her outlets from this unfathomable world include nature, animals (especially funny videos of), books and writing stories. This latter occupation enables her to create her own worlds, populate them and dispose of the residents as she thinks fit. She finds holding the fate of these poor souls in her hands immensely satisfying.

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My thanks to Sheila for sharing one of the stories in her new collection and I would be grateful if you could share. I will be back on Monday to respond to your comments. Thank you Sally