Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – Short Stories -Odd Jobs and Characters by Sally Cronin

So far I have published over 60 short stories in collections and the one drawback to this is the amount of diverse characters required to star in a wide variety of situations.

Luckily, I have a retentive memory stretching back to around the age of three, of the people, places and events in my life. Thankfully the majority of those memories are happy, but there have also been one or two life threatening occasions as well as times when the world seemed very dark. Although over time they were resolved, they too have become very useful for creating plots in stories and providing emotional context.

I was always imaginative as a child… my mother I seem to remember, called it ‘telling fibs’. For me as we travelled around to various countries, my imaginary friends were a comfort and helped me gain confidence as I made real friends. They were eventually replaced with the real life counterparts and very precious they are too.

Fifty-one years ago I started work on a part-time basis as soon as it was legally possible. I was fourteen years old, and even though I have had periods when not officially employed, I have been working ever since. My intention is to be dragged kicking and screaming into the next world with my keyboard in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

This series shares some of the jobs I have turned my hand to over that fifty years, and some were very odd. Not many have sat at a table between two teams of champion dairy cows, selling bull semen!  Over the years I have accumulated a massive dossier of characters and events that now take centre stage in my short stories. If you have read my novel Just an Odd Job Girl you will have met some of them but over the next twelve weeks I hope to bring you some of the others that inspired and stimulated my imagination.

Not all these posts appeared on Smorgasbord as some fantastic blogging friends allowed me to guest post. Where this is the case I will of course provide you with the links to their post…

Souvenir and ice-cream seller along the seafront.

Just thinking back to those early spring months of 1967 make me smile. I had pestered my mother and father for months to let me get a part-time job. I didn’t want a paper round as getting up at an ungodly hour before school every morning, including Sunday, held little appeal. Also, my parents were concerned that my schoolwork would suffer so we compromised on a weekend and holiday job.

Just before Easter, I saw an advertisement in the local evening paper for staff for the council run operations along the seafront. The minimum age was fourteen years and three months, which I had just passed, and there was an address to apply for an application form.

Without telling my mother, I sent off for the form, which duly arrived. Being a council application form it covered three pages and virtually asked for your weight and number of teeth. I was proud of my efforts, and presented the completed and signed form to my mother, who also had to sign the form because of my age.

My mother had to accompany me to the interview and she made me wear my school uniform to encourage a belief that I might be a worthy candidate! The interviewer was a nice man and I remember that he had a deep voice and seemed genuinely interested in what this fourteen year old had to say… which was pretty rare!

Three days later a letter arrived stating that I would be employed for the summer season, and weekends once I was back at school, at a cafe and souvenir kiosk by South Parade Pier. I would work for a maximum of six hours a day, at an hourly rate of two shillings an hour. I was rich.

I arrived excited, but understandibly nervous, and was greeted by a rather austere cafe manageress. She issued me a nylon overall and so many rules and regulations that I forgot them immediately.. Thankfully she then uttered the words…..‘I am giving you to Betty.’

I was pleasantly surprised to be handed over to a tiny, beaming woman who had been waiting for me outside the back door of the café.

She was wearing the highest pair of stiletto shoes I had ever seen. She must have been under five-foot in height and nicely plump; I had no idea how she managed to stay upright on these thin, three-inch heels. I am nearly six foot and I looked down on my diminutive new companion, wondering how she was going to boss me around. I was soon to find out that looks could be deceiving!

About twenty feet from the restaurant there was a small round building. Little did I know at the time, but apart from occasional relief duties in the main café, this was going to be my work place for the next three seasons. Betty opened a door at the back of the structure.
I stepped through into the dark and stood for a moment on the threshold of a new life. The lights snapped on and I looked around me. It was filled to bursting with leather and plastic souvenirs and beach games, and stored for security reasons, a large double-sided postcard stand that needed to be taken outside to make room for the occupants.

After carrying that outside between us, Betty busied herself at the old fashioned till perched on the wooden shelf. No mean feat as it stood four feet off the ground and she could barely see over the top of the counter.  I could now see the reasoning behind the three-inch heels.

Betty then proceeded to introduce me to the world of selling souvenirs which ranged from combs, purses, heart shaped badges and other small items. They either bore the coat of arms for Portsmouth and Southsea or with a male of female name. Good luck if you had been called something exotic!

She was a very patient and lovely woman, who not only showed me a management style that became a benchmark for me in my later career, but also became my friend. Her on job training was second to none, and by the second weekend she pronounced me Assistant Manager of the kiosk.  I was solely responsible for stocking, selling to our many customers and cash management when she took her lunch breaks and for her days off.

Betty has featured in several of my stories in one disguise or another and even after 50 years, her influence on my work ethic, management style and sense of responsibility makes me grateful for having her in my life.

As well as providing me with some wonderful characters in addition to Betty, my time  along the seafront provided me with plenty of material for future stories. These included her request for me to wear sneakers one weekend so that I could chase down and capture a couple of lads who had been pinching the saucy postcards on a regular basis; a mission that I completed to her satisfaction if not to the suitably berated offenders.

In my third year at the cafe, I was promoted to the front of house where whipped ice-cream was dispensed. I eventually got the knack of creating perfect whirls topped with a chocolate flake, but I am afraid that I consumed the evidence of my early failures which resulted in a need for a larger overall.

The next post follows my efforts in my first full time job working in a private dental practice at the age of seventeen.

About Sally Cronin.

I have lived a fairly nomadic existence living in eight countries including the Sri Lanka, South Africa and USA before settling back here in Ireland. My work in a number of industries, and a desire to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world in the last forty years, has taken me to many more incredible destinations around Europe and Canada, and across the oceans to New Zealand and Hawaii. All those experiences and the people that I have met, provide a rich source of inspiration for my stories.

I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one.

My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.

My latest book – What’s in a Name – Volume Two.

Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them.

Kenneth watches the love of his life dance on New Year’s Eve while Lily plants very special flowers every spring for her father. Martha helps out a work colleague as Norman steps back out into the world to make a difference. Owen brings light into a house and Patrick risks his life in the skies over Britain and holds back from telling a beautiful redhead that he loves her.In one way or another all these characters will be remembered by those whose lives they have touched.

There is also a bonus story introducing a new collection The Village Square to be published in 2018.

One of the recent reviews for the book

A brief romance that lasts a life time and longer, a poignant story of Easter eggs and then we meet Martha, a colleague we would all love to have… Three stories in and I was already enjoying the deliciously different tales in this collection. Cheer on Norman, admire Patrick and have the last laugh with Rosemary. Dip into this these easy to read short tales any time, but expect some to have dark twists.

You can buy the book:

And Amazon UK:

My other books

Author Page UK:

And Amazon US:

Everything you need to know about how to buy my books and connect to me on social media is here:

Thank you for dropping by and your ongoing support.. It means a great deal to me.. thanks Sally


Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? Volume Two – Kenneth by Sally Cronin

New Year’s Eve by Sally Cronin

Kenneth Fitzgerald looked across the crowded ballroom at the woman that he had loved for a lifetime. Georgina was surrounded by attentive male admirers, and was holding court as she always did, with elegance and grace. He watched as she tilted her head to one side to listen to the young man sitting next to her, cupping her hand delicately behind her ear, to better hear his comments over the sound of the band.

The handsome companion was her grandson Timothy, and even at first glance you could see the resemblance; the same blue eyes, golden hair colour and a long refined nose. Georgie was 90 years old and yet her beauty was undiminished. Kenneth knew he was biased. He remembered his stunned reaction to meeting her for the first time over 70 years ago, in this same ballroom on New Year’s Eve 1935.

Georgina Crowley was the daughter of a millionaire financier who had managed to survive the Wall Street crash in 1929, by converting his wealth in previous years into a renowned art collection. Malcolm Crowley was an astute businessman and had never squandered his money on the trappings of wealth. He had also salted away cash and jewellery on his various international travels, providing a comfortable buffer for the family, and those that had worked for him loyally over the last thirty years.

He was as canny with his three children as he was with his wealth. His two sons had followed him into the firm after studying for business degrees , and Georgina had also been encouraged to go to college, where she was now training to be a teacher. Malcolm firmly believed that all his children should have skills that could support them, should the financial climate not improve significantly in his lifetime. That is not to say that his youngest child did not also enjoy the benefits of being part of a wealthy family. Georgina was known to have exquisite taste, and her slim figure was the perfect shape to model the latest fashions. To be fair, many of the designs were copied from the leading fashion magazines, and recreated on her treasured Singer sewing machine

Kenneth brought himself back to the present and felt his heart pounding in his chest. It was the same every year, when he remembered that first New Year’s Eve, when he had fallen madly in love at first sight with Georgina Crowley. It had not been a one-sided infatuation, and at that first touch of her delicate hand in his own, he had felt a tremor that caused him to look up into her face. Her pink lips had parted in surprise and her smile dazzled him.

They had danced all night circling the floor; perfectly matched in their love of the foxtrot and quickstep. The other party goers had moved to one side to watch this golden couple as they seamlessly moved from one dance to another. Even Malcolm Crowley paused in his discussions with a group of men, to watch his daughter’s delight in this young man’s embrace.

Kenneth had wanted to kiss those pink lips at midnight but was aware of the scrutiny from those around them. He had whispered in Georgina’s ear as they waltzed to the final tune of the old year.

‘Shall we slip away at midnight and find some moon and starlight?’

She had looked into his eyes and smiled, nodding her head in agreement.

As the clock struck midnight, Georgina rushed to her parents at their table and kissed and hugged them both. In the ensuing melee, as the other guests did likewise, the two of them had slipped out of the large double doors at the end of the ballroom. Kenneth had guided her to his car parked along the drive. He grabbed a blanket from the back seat of the roadster and placed it around Georgina’s shoulders before helping her into the front seat. He raced around to the other side of the car and within minutes they were roaring down the hill from the house into the dark night.

Kenneth drove carefully as the road was slick with ice and he was aware that he was responsible for a very precious cargo. Although it was a cold night he knew just the place to take Georgina on this magical occasion. A spot high above the city, where the lights and sounds of New Year’s Eve would provide a backdrop for their first kiss.

He looked across at Georgina as she clasped the plaid blanket around her bare shoulders, and smiled at her obvious delight at this adventure. His eyes were only off the road for seconds, but it was still long enough for him to miss the broken down car around a curve in the road.

He regained consciousness and raised his hand to his forehead; it came away wet and sticky. He wiped blood from his eyes and tried to move his body. Finally he was able to push himself into a sitting position against the upturned roadster and he desperately looked for Georgina. The moon came out from behind a cloud and he took a sharp intake of breath as he saw her crumpled form by the rear bumper of the car. He crawled across and managed to pull her crushed and lifeless body into his arms… his heart was pounding in his chest and he tried to wake her by touching her face and calling her name. After several minutes he rested his head back against the car and he knew that she was gone.

‘Please, please do not take her … it is my fault and it should be me… take me… please take me and save her.’

On New Year’s Day, Georgie asked her youngest grandson to drive her to the cemetery. She came here often to visit her husband’s grave. Phillip had been a wonderful man and she had grown to love him during the long summer of 1942. They had twin sons born in 1944 but tragically Phillip had been killed in the last weeks of the war. He had been brought home and buried in the Crowley family plot close by her house and their sons.  She still missed his loving kindness.  However, she admitted to herself that it was a different kind of love to the one that has swept her off her feet that magical New Year’s Eve in 1935.

Whilst her grandson watched from the car, Georgina spent some minutes at Phillip’s monument. Then walking carefully, leaning on her stick, she moved down the icy path until she stopped before another gravestone. Tears gathered in her pale blue eyes as she read the inscription.

Kenneth Fitzgerald
Beloved son and brother.
1910 – 1935
Killed in an automobile accident.

It was 70 years ago, and yet every New Year’s Day, Georgie relived those dreadful first moments when she had woken in the hospital. She had a dreadful headache but thankfully didn’t seem to have any other major injuries. Her mother and father were sitting by her bedside and Malcolm gently took her hand in his. Her first words were asking for Kenneth, and she still remembered the look of anguish on her father’s face as he braced himself to tell her the news.

She touched the top of the headstone and smiled to herself. He had been there again last night at the family ball, watching from the shadows as he had done every year, and she had felt that same giddy feeling as that first New Year’s Eve. She suspected that this time however it was more likely that her medication was no longer effective in keeping her failing heart beating.

She felt a touch on her shoulder and looked up into the smiling face of her grandson.

‘Time to go Gran.. It is getting cold and I need to get you back home.’

Georgie took his arm and they moved carefully up the path. She turned for one last look at Kenneth’s grave.

She whispered to herself. ‘Next year my love, next year we will dance again together on New Year’s Eve.’

©sallycronin 2016

I hope that you have enjoyed this story from What’s in a Name Volume Two.. Both volumes are now available in print in the UK and Ireland.. But they are also available separately in Ebook.


You can read the reviews and buy the books

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Amazon UK:

Amazon India:


More reviews can be found on Goodreads:

Thank you for dropping in and Happy New Year… see you in 2018…


Smorgasbord – Posts from Your Archive – Crayons and The Junk Shop by Carol Taylor

Welcome to the series where you can share four of your links from your archives here on my blog to a new audience. Perhaps posts that you wrote at the beginning of your blogging experience that deserve another showcase. If you have book promotion posts then please contact me separately for other options. Details of how to get in touch with me at the end of the post.

This week Carol Taylor ponders on life and how we are a little like crayons in a box and treats us to one of her short stories.

We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names, but they all have learned to live together in the same box. ~Robert Fulghum
 I suppose life is like a box of crayons, and we all certainly have to learn to live together in that same box…don’t we? Well, ideal world and all that but if we all work towards that then maybe this old world would be a much better place for us and our children and grand children.

You can just tell I’m maudlin, can’t you? Been a busy week ..lots of writing and cooking and thoughtfulness at life in general. Read some great blogs and some not so great, but all thought-provoking in their own way so keep on blogging guys.

I will now ( hopefully) treat you to another of my short stories and not a dark one as one of my friends and critics commented on some of mine. She said “ for such a sunny, happy lady you sure have some dark thoughts” and she thought this one was much better…ha ha.

When I went on a writers retreat we were taken to this shop and then given a set time to pen a story all I will say is that it shows how my brain goes off on a tangent at times

The Junk Shop.

Off we set, some in the Tuk ,Tuk, one fulfilling the dream by hanging off the back and the remainder of our intrepid little band of writers elected for shank’s pony.

“Rather you than me in this heat,” I thought.

We set of down the hill, round the corner and within minutes pulled up outside this virtual Aladdin’s Cave.

Yippee! Who knows what goodies and treasures lurk within?

The little wizened Thai man sitting somewhere in the middle like a jewel in a crown looked somewhat amused at all these farangs who were coming from all directions. I wandered along those dusty isles looking, searching for that special find.

Suddenly, clumsy klutz that I am tripped and went flying through the gap that had appeared before me. Landing on my butt the freezing wet, cold snow hit me!

Looking around all I could see was snow. Snow! Must have hit my head I thought. I know I was sweating buckets and wished I was cooler. But This!

I gingerly stood and looked around in amazement all I could see was white, white and more white.

I must be dreaming. But No. Here I was standing in the snow in my flip flops. Noticing a beautiful white flower. I bent to smell it, the perfume wafting upwards invading my senses, conjuring up pictures of pine trees and Christmas. Plucking one of the flowers I straightened up.

This was eerie.

“Hello?” “Any one there?”

Silence. I began to panic. Then the blackness engulfed me.

“Carol, Carol are you ok?” Someone was slapping the side of my face. I opened my eyes to see Anne looking down at me. A worried expression on her face. I gingerly moved my legs, my arms; everything seemed to be in working order.

I was back.

Anne and Jason helped me to my feet and walked me slowly to the waiting Tuk Tuk. I must have been dreaming. Feeling something in my hand I slowly opened it and my eyes widened.

Nestled in the palm of my hand was a beautiful white flower.

©CarolTaylor 2015

My thanks to Carol for sharing one of her earlier posts and stories…you can see why she has been included in the Phuket Island Writers Anthology. More from her on Wednesday with our usual Cook from Scratch with Sally and Carol Taylor.

About Carol Taylor

Enjoying life in The Land Of Smiles I am having so much fun researching, finding new, authentic recipes both Thai and International to share with you. New recipes gleaned from those who I have met on my travels or are just passing through and stopped for a while. I hope you enjoy them.

I love shopping at the local markets, finding fresh, natural ingredients, new strange fruits and vegetables ones I have never seen or cooked with. I am generally the only European person and attract much attention and I love to try what I am offered and when I smile and say Aroy or Saab as it is here in the north I am met with much smiling.

Some of my recipes may not be in line with traditional ingredients and methods of cooking but are recipes I know and have become to love and maybe if you dare to try you will too. You will always get more than just a recipe from me as I love to research and find out what other properties the ingredients I use have to improve our health and wellbeing.

Exciting for me hence the title of my blog, Retired No One Told Me! I am having a wonderful ride and don’t want to get off, so if you wish to follow me on my adventures, then welcome! I hope you enjoy the ride also and if it encourages you to take a step into the unknown or untried, you know you want to…….Then, I will be happy!

Connect to Carol

New additional Blog:

Phuket Island Anthology:


If you have missed previous posts in the Cook from Scratch series you can find them here:

If you would like to share some of your archive posts from when you began blogging, then please send up to four links to

Please do not send self-promotional book posts as there are several other ways to promote your books here. I am looking for posts on life, relationships, health, creative writing, food, music and travel.. If you have a short story to share that is great too.

Odd Jobs and Characters – Dental Surgery Part Two – Sally Cronin

As part of my book launch for What’s in a Name Volume II, I am sharing some of the sometimes quirky jobs that I have taken on over the years. This ranged from chasing schoolboy postcard thieves along Southsea seafront… to selling bull semen at agricultural shows (I won’t go into too much detail about that one!) Anyway for this week I will schedule on my blog and then I will be handing the posts over to 12 kind friends who will host them for me. The first of these is D.G. Kaye on August 18th when I will detail my escapades in the shoe department of our local department store.

You can previous posts in the series in this directory.

The Dental Surgery Part Two


After many years of not being able to have a baby… Miss Smith was pregnant and could not stand the sight of blood!  So began a very intensive training course and my career took a very different path.

I was now 18 years old and have been studying the dental nurse course at home and in quiet periods in the surgery. I had also been getting practical experience on the basic tasks required by a chairside assistant, and having done a first aid course I found that I slipped into this role quite quickly.  In those days on job training was common, and because there was not such a wide range of procedures carried out, it was intensive but thorough. Also in those days there were not the technical aspects to the profession to contend with. Poor patients were lucky to get an anaesthetic for minor fillings!

By this time Roland was 68 and he was a tough boss. He had been in the army during the second world war and after retiring at 50 had gone into private practice. He did rather treat me as a squaddie and this extended to the daily deep cleaning of the surgery. Apart from washing down all the surfaces with anteseptic wash, including chair and its attachments I was expected to sterilise all instruments after each patient in a temperamental boiler. I was also equipped with a toothbrush, and all cracks and seams on the chair and the cabinet that contained the instruments and drugs had to be cleaned with hot water and soap each Wednesday afternoon when Roland went out sailing.

Our equipment was not exactly state-of-the-art, and some of it actually had done service in the desert. For example, at that time, in the sixties, we had frequent power cuts during the miners strikes. This of course meant that the electric, high-speed drill was non-operational. So, out would come the ‘squeeze-box’. This powered a drill attached to a pulley. Roland would pump up and down on a pedal and this provided enough energy to operate the drill at a painfully slow speed. I operated another squeeze box that powered the suction pipe. Painful enough just watching, so I can only imagine what it was like for the patient.

Another of my jobs was to develop the X-rays, and on one occasion this led to a bit of a ‘miracle’. The developing was done in a small broom cupboard at the top of the stairs. It contained two tall, narrow, tanks, one for developing and one for fixing, and I had to wear elbow length rubber gloves to handle the chemicals.

For processing, the X-rays were clipped into a metal holder which had four metal clips each side of the main central shaft. A sticker was put on this shaft showing which patient each X-ray belonged to. On this particular occasion, when I was in a hurry, I inadvertently opened the clip at the top of the holder and released all eight X-rays into the fixer tank. You have to remember that I was operating in very subdued lighting and I had to fish around in the tank with my gloved hand to find these slippery little bits of film.

At last, I got them all out and because they were now developed and fixed, I could switch the main light on. But, whose X-ray was which? I did my best, and put all eight films back in the holder to dry.

Nothing happened for about two weeks. I was doing the accounts while Roland was taking impressions for some dentures when I got the call. I entered the surgery to find a lovely lady in her seventies in the chair. She smiled at me revealing her pink gums and nothing else. I turned to my boss who was holding an X-ray up to the window and examining it closely.

‘Imagine my extreme surprise to discover, on removing this patient’s  X-ray from her notes, that she has grown a complete set of new teeth and indeed has a whole jaw of second teeth to follow.’  Thankfully, the correct X-ray was located in one of our younger patient’s notes, but from then on, I always checked the X-rays in the notes before handing them over for the appointment.

There were still the odd times when I wished I was anywhere else but in that surgery, but looking back, even those times were amusing.

During an upper tooth extraction I would place two clasped hands over the patient’s head to keep it nice and steady whilst Roland applied pressure to the tooth before removing. On one occasion as I applied the necessary force, I felt the patient’s hair begin to move. I was terrified that I had scalped him but then realised it was a toupee. It slipped back and forth during the procedure and unfortunately the patient left with it askew as I was unable to get it back in its proper position. Do you know how hard it is for an 19 year old not to giggle in that situation!

After two years I felt that I would like to take my training further, and considered training as a State Registered Nurse. The Queen Alexandra Nursing Service was advertising for recruits at the time and the uniform was very attractive. However, fate was to take yet another hand in my destiny!

Some of the more memorable patients have appeared in my short stories..

Next week – The Shoe Department – Cheating and surprises….This post is being hosted on D.G. Kaye’s wonderful blog on Friday August 18th.. I will post a link on the day so you can head over and read.

My latest book – What’s in a Name – Volume Two.

Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them.

Kenneth watches the love of his life dance on New Year’s Eve while Lily plants very special flowers every spring for her father. Martha helps out a work colleague as Norman steps back out into the world to make a difference. Owen brings light into a house and Patrick risks his life in the skies over Britain and holds back from telling a beautiful redhead that he loves her.In one way or another all these characters will be remembered by those whose lives they have touched.

There is also a bonus story introducing a new collection The Village Square to be published in 2018.

You can buy the book:

Everything you need to know about how to buy my books and connect to me on social media is here:

Thank you for dropping by and your ongoing support.. It means a great deal to me.. thanks Sally


Odd Jobs and Characters – The Dental Surgery – Part one – Sally Cronin

As part of my book launch for What’s in a Name Volume II, I am sharing some of the sometimes quirky jobs that I have taken on over the years. This ranged from chasing schoolboy postcard thieves along Southsea seafront… to selling bull semen at agricultural shows (I won’t go into too much detail about that one!) Anyway for the next two weeks I will schedule on my blog and then I will be handing the posts over to 12 kind friends who will host them for me. The first of these is D.G. Kaye on August 18th when I will detail my escapades in the shoe department of our local department store.

You can find last week’s post and all subsequent ones in the series in this directory.

The Dental Surgery Part One

Following a year at secretarial college, and having gained my passes in shorthand and typing, I entered the full-time job market.

My experience along the seafront had at least prepared me for working life. I was usually punctual and didn’t take liberties with my lunch hour. I had even had my first managerial position, you could say, as I had been left in charge of my kiosk during Betty’s days off and holidays. Unfortunately this had not prepared me for the interviews that I attended and I was sorely disappointed to discover that the only job that was open, to a newly qualified secretary, was that of the lowly office junior.

I had earned two and six an hour along the seafront and at sixteen worked a forty-hour week. This gave me five pounds a week, plus tips, which were divided between all the staff. Because I was a student I did not pay tax and so I usually had at least seven pounds a week in my hand. I soon discovered that office juniors were lucky to get six pounds a week and that would be taxed.

Then fate took a hand. Smack bang in the middle of the job section of the local newspaper was an advertisement for a Dental Receptionist for a local private practice in Southsea.  I will admit that the starting salary at £7 a week was an improvement on the other jobs I had chased, and the thought of a crisp white overall rather than the blue nylon one at the cafe on the seafront also appealed.

I went for the interview with Roland Phillips who at 67 was 50 years older than me. He wore half glasses and his hair was slicked back from rather an austere face. He sat behind his desk with his hands clasped in front of them and I remember thinking how dry they looked with very white nails. (I later discovered that my boss was fanatical about cleanliness which he needed to be with his hands in mouths all day.

It transpired that his dental nurse also doubled as his secretary and receptionist but the practice was far too busy for her to cope. My secretarial qualifications were acceptable but apparently I also got the job because of my accent on the phone… go with the flow I say.

I arrived on my first Monday and inbetween patients the very patient chairside assistant took me through my duties. My new boss expected me to read every file for the over 400 patients; acquainting myself with their previous treatments and also upcoming appointments. I would answer the phone and make appointments. I had to prepare daily lists of patients, extract their files and greet them when they arrived and show them to the waiting room. Following their appointment I would collect their file, decipher Roland’s summary and charges and prepare a bill to be sent out at the end of each month. I was also expected to manage the inventory of all equipment, drugs and other supplies and order as necessary, which proved to be very useful later on in the job.

I was expected to learn very quickly so that Miss Smith could return to her chairside duties full time, and it was quite a tough assignment. However, I did enjoy the job very much and looked forward to 9.00 each morning.

As I became more proficient, so my duties increased in responsibility, and when busy, I would be drafted in to help in the surgery with tasks such as mixing amalgam for fillings and developing x-rays. I was given the dental nurse training course to follow at home and I found myself spending my spare time on the project. Things were going along swimmingly for the first three months when an incident occured that was to bring about huge changes.

I was preparing the end of month accounts when I heard a heavy thud from the surgery. Thinking that a patient or even Mr. Phillips might have fallen I rushed in to find Miss Smith had collapsed. They had been in the middle of a delicate operation to remove a remaining root from a tooth that had just been extracted. This was a two-person job and one of those was now sitting shakily on one of the surgery chairs. Before I knew it I was wearing surgical gloves, keeping the patient’s mouth clear of fluids and handing the correct instruments to my boss.

After many years of not being able to have a baby… Miss Smith was pregnant and could not stand the sight of blood!  So began a very intensive training course and my career took a very different path.

Mr. Roland Phillips was the inspiration for the dentist in Just an Odd Job Girl… a character I will never forget.

Next week – Xray mix ups – toupees and the miners strike.

My latest book – What’s in a Name – Volume Two.

Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them.

Kenneth watches the love of his life dance on New Year’s Eve while Lily plants very special flowers every spring for her father. Martha helps out a work colleague as Norman steps back out into the world to make a difference. Owen brings light into a house and Patrick risks his life in the skies over Britain and holds back from telling a beautiful redhead that he loves her.In one way or another all these characters will be remembered by those whose lives they have touched.

There is also a bonus story introducing a new collection The Village Square to be published in 2018.

You can buy the book:

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Thank you for dropping by and your ongoing support.. It means a great deal to me.. thanks Sally


A Pavrotti Fan achieves his dream of a lifetime………as told by Geoff Cronin


My father-in-law Geoff Cronin who died in February was 93 and with a memory like a bear trap… and who is also a great raconteur.. and I had a conversation one weekend about the music series on the life of Luciano Pavarotti with William Price King.  I know that since his death you have been enjoying his stories and since we will not be starting his third and last book next weekend you might enjoy reading this post again.. or for the first time.

Anyway my father-in-law had a wonderful story about one of Pavarotti’s greatest fans.

Michael lived in Donegal and his mother, who was a music teacher and introduced him to opera and specifically the work of Luciano Pavarotti back in the 1980s.

This began a lifetime’s obsession with the singer and despite being short on cash, Michael bought every recording the great man released. He would also record any television appearances and cherished the DVD of the one film that Pavarotti made.. Yes Giorgio… and successive girlfriends were forced to watch copious times during predictably short-lived romances.

Eventually Michael set up his own business with a record shop and bookstore. Over the years he saved up money in a large cake tin, hidden on the top of his kitchen cabinets in his flat above the shop. His friends down at the pub on a Friday night would indulge Michael’s fantasy of one day attending the great Pavarotti’s performances; laughing behind his back when he would enthuse about the singer’s most recent album release.

Finally, after twenty years, Michael had saved enough to buy a front row ticket for a performance to be given in Modena, Italy.  There was also sufficient left over to hire a tuxedo and spend a night or two in a modest hotel on the outskirts of town.  He headed off to Dublin and the airport on the train. This was his first flight and excursion out of the country and he was beside himself with fear and excitement.

Eventually he arrived in Modena and was grateful that the lady who ran the small hotel spoke English.. She was very helpful in getting his suit pressed and getting a taxi to take him to the concert on time.

Three days later Michael arrived back in Donegal in a state of bliss. He couldn’t wait to get to the pub on the Friday and tell all his friends about the most amazing experience of his life.

Sure enough his friends were all ears when he began to tell them about his adventures. None of them had ever left the country nor flown in a plane and they plied him with questions about every aspect of the trip. Finally one asked about the actual concert.

Michael, relishing being the centre of attention, and with all eyes on him, talked them through the evening moment by moment.  The venue, the beautiful women in their expensive gowns, the men all in black tie and the champagne in the interval. His front row seat had offered him the most wonderful view of the performance and his heart had beaten rapidly at being so close to his beautiful Pavarotti.

One of his friends asked him if the singer was as good in person as on the recordings.

‘Oh he was superb and it was so thrilling to see him live; I cannot tell you how amazing those two hours were.’

One of them piped up. ‘And what was he like as a man, you know did he interact with the audience.’

Michael shook his head and grimaced slightly. ‘Well he doesn’t like it much when you sing along with him!’


You can find the serialisation of Geoff’s books so far in this link:

Smorgasbord short stories revisited – Blue Jay Cay by Colin Peck

When I worked on radio in the south of Spain I presented and recorded four series of Authors in the Sun showcasing local writers and their short stories.

Colin Peck who is an established author of several books kindly contributed two stories, one of which I am featuring today. You will find the link to his Amazon author’s page at the end of the story where you will find his novels.

Blue Jay Cay

Blue Jay Cay was a beach like no other they had seen. At least a mile of golden sand stretching before them, underneath a clear blue Caribbean sky. A line of coconut palms swayed in the gentle breeze, standing like soldiers on parade just above the shoreline. It was paradise.

Arnold raised his camera to eye level to photograph the wonderful vista and spoke to his wife, Caroline.

‘If we could get that run down chalet bungalow just behind the beach, we could renovate it completely. Ideal for all the family and friends to visit. I bet a few from the office will be out as well!’

‘Perfect location,’ Caroline agreed. ‘And you could build a patio just like the one we had on the house in England. And that garage could be converted into another bedroom. And I could completely change the garden.’

‘Yes, I think we’ve certainly found the right place to retire. Let’s get back into Nassau town and see the agent, before someone else snaps it up! I shan’t sleep tonight if the money hasn’t arrived!

Then Arnold spotted some more property seekers. ‘Look, there’s another car pulling up over there, I bet they’re looking for a bargain property as well!’

They hurried back to their car and then went speeding off down the dusty track that led to the main road into Nassau.

An old local man, Winston had hoped to greet them as they drove past his old shanty house and perhaps sell them some bananas, but as he raised his hand to wave he was showered in a cloud of dust and sand. They had not even glanced his way.

Momentarily blinded, Winston lost his balance and fell straight out of his hammock, scattering the squawking yard chickens. His old mongrel, ‘Bonzo’ woke from a deep slumber and dutifully started barking.

‘Gee whiz! Them folks is in a hurry!’ he said to himself as he stood up and brushed the sand off of his threadbare shorts and torn shirt. He looked along the road but the car had long since disappeared in a cloud of dust.

‘Oh never mind. Come on, I guess it’s time we went fishin, Bonzo.’

Winston was back in his hammock at the same time the next day but on this occasion he decided he would keep a sharp watch out for approaching cars. Sure enough, Arnold’s car appeared and roared past and then stopped near the old bungalow nearby. The same two people got out and wandered off, armed with what appeared to be plans and stopping every few yards to take snapshots.

An hour later they had finished, but this time their car did stop outside the shanty when they saw Winston’s weather beaten old sign, ‘Coconuts and Bananas for Sale.’

Winston was half-asleep but listened from underneath his straw hat, which was covering his face, as the couple got out of their car and approached.

‘I say there,’ Arnold said in a slightly raised voice, ‘Do you know of any plans to build more houses here?’

Winston stayed put with his hat still covering his eyes. ‘Well, let me see. Good afternoon, by the way,’ Winston paused and thought for a moment as they waited anxiously for his reply. ‘No, no plans I know of. Why d’you ask?’

‘Well, we’ve just bought that old bungalow behind the beach,’ Caroline replied. ‘We wondered if we might eventually be surrounded?’

‘No. Only by all this lovely peace and quiet, Ma’m. Us folks around here just like to let the world go by. Actually, the Cay is designated an area of natural beauty.’

‘Oh,’ Arnold replied as he and Caroline stood closer and looked over the garden fence. Bonzo got up and began to wag his tail.

‘My word, you have a lot of old empty bottles piled up there!’ Caroline pointed at a carefully arranged heap of old rum and beer bottles surrounded by a flower border.

‘Can’t you throw your rubbish away properly?’

‘That’s not rubbish, that’s Uncle Vernon,’ said Winston.

‘How do you mean?’ Arnold was puzzled.

‘He’s buried under there.’

Caroline gasped in horror. ‘What, under there…?’

‘Sure, six feet under, that’s he’s final restin’ place. Ninety one years of age, he was. We all think it was the relaxin’ way of life he enjoyed. So here he is, still relaxing. That’s how we bury our folks in this part of the world!’

‘Good gracious, are you allowed to do that?’ she asked.

‘I hope so, Ma’am. He’s been there for two years now!’ Winston said, finally rising out of his hammock and ambling slowly over to them.

‘So now, what are you good folks doin’ looking at property around here? Holiday home, retiring?’

‘Retiring actually,’ Arnold announced.

‘Good for you! Life’s too short. Just look at all this tranquillity!’

‘We thought it was an ideal opportunity,’ Caroline added.

‘Sure is Ma’am, what are you gonna do with all your spare time?’

‘I like painting,’ said Arnold.

‘That’s great, just look at the scenery around about. Mind you, oddly enough, I’ve never seen a Blue Jay around here! What do you use, oils? Watercolours?’

‘Oh no, I meant painting the house,’ Arnold replied.

‘Gee mister, we don’t worry too much around here. Jus’ look at this old shack behind me.’ Winston gestured at the old flaking timbers of his home.

‘You just never seem to catch up with the rainy season in this climate.’ Then he smiled at Caroline.

‘So, how about you, lady? I’ll bet you’ll be relaxing and reading on the verandah! Catching up on all those great books you folks collect back in Europe?’

Caroline appeared to be slightly shocked at Winston’s direct manner. ‘Oh no, I’ll be far too busy getting the house ready for visitors.’

‘Visitors!’ Winston shouted in disbelief. ‘Boy, you must be wealthy people if you don’t mind me sayin’ so! Them devils cost a fortune, did you know that?’

‘Well I’m sure ours won’t,’ Caroline snootily replied.

‘In fact folks, that is why that old bungalow is like it is now!’ Winston exclaimed.

‘What do you mean?’ said Arnold.

‘The couple in there had so many visitors, they went broke!’

‘I don’t believe you,’ said Caroline.

‘It’s true!’ Winston continued, ‘That guy did so many airport runs it turned his car into a wreck. His lady wife wore out so many washin’ machines and steam irons they could start a scrap yard! There was even a rumour they had to run four chest freezers and- they had to buy a bread making machine! Broke up their marriage in the end!’

‘We think you’re exaggerating,’ Arnold said testily.

‘OK, just check it out. By the way, would you folks like to buy some bananas?’

‘Not today thank you,’ Caroline snapped and they both turned away to walk toward their car.

‘Suit yourself. They are very good for stress,’ Winston called after them, ‘So is coconut milk!’

‘We shan’t have any stress, we’re retiring, remember!’ Arnold shouted back.

Winston watched their progress with growing interest over the following weeks and months. First of all, Arnold got an old trailer to pull behind his car and then a new cement mixer arrived. Hardly a day went past without a delivery of bags of cement or timber, or gravel. New window frames and literally hundreds of tiles. Bonfires of garden rubbish were a daily occurrence and both Arnold and Caroline appeared very tired as they toiled in the heat on their noisy and dusty building site.

Then after six months of hard work, it was Christmas and their first visitors arrived.

Winston saw Arnold driving past in his now well scratched and dented car, forcing a smile and waving a bandaged hand, as he returned with an assorted group of passengers from the airport. What a way to spend Christmas Eve, thought Winston as he watched Caroline greet the passengers on the porch and Arnold struggle into the bungalow with several large suitcases.

And the procession never ended. Hardly a week passed by when Arnold wasn’t on the airport run and Caroline wasn’t hanging out extra laundry, or weeding the garden. Even the small local supermarket could hardly keep up with the demand. The local gossips said they were doing ‘Bed and Breakfast,’ but it was not the case. Just constant visitors.

By Easter, they had worn out their second barbecue and Arnold had even bought some scaffolding to make window cleaning easier.

Theirs was a strange retirement; Winston could not help thinking. They must have really hated leaving work, he decided one afternoon as he lazed in his garden hammock. As though they were terrified at the thought of relaxing in the sun and taking a well earned rest. They were good folks and should be making the best of their new life of leisure.

Then it was time for his work. Winston had finished his afternoon nap and strolled down the golden sand to his little fishing boat moored at the pontoon. Arnold was driving slowly by with a load of building tools and an air conditioning unit strapped to his car trailer.

Winston waved to him and then cast off his boat into the gentle surf.

Hopefully, the Grouper fish would be biting this evening. Otherwise it was Cajun chicken for supper, while he listened with interest and fascination to the local radio station. Sipping a rum punch afterwards, while watching the glorious sunset was just another added bonus of life on the Cay.

He slowly motored the boat offshore, watching the fading gold streaks of light dance on the surface of the sea and then glanced back to the shoreline. He could just see Arnold and Caroline still bringing trays of drinks and snacks to their latest visitors, who were all relaxing on the bungalow verandah. The poor devils were still catering at this time of the day, as the guest’s laughter echoed across the water.

Then Winston suddenly had a thought. It was very easy for him to criticise well meaning folks and the way they lived their lives. But it was still a fact that so many of the new settlers could not help falling into a trap of a sort. Thinking that they were retired, but really still working.

More to the point, what on earth would HE do, when he decided to retire? He didn’t have to think twice of the answer. Then he began to laugh at himself as he got his fishing nets ready to cast, causing a slightly confused ‘Bonzo,’ to wag his tail.

©ColinPeck 2004

About the Author
Colin Peck was born in London in 1946 and grew up in a working class environment during the austere post war years. He was fortunate to get a place at Clarendon School and went on to study chemistry, working in his early career in the technical departments of an international oil company.

He started writing several years back, having some short story fiction published in the U.S. and has written factual articles on both nautical and espionage matters, published both in the U.S. and U.K.

‘Enrico Albyvendie’ was his first novel, inspired by his lifelong interest in London’s history and an intricate knowledge of the London taxi trade. Together with his wife Avril, he retired to live in Spain in 2000 and has written to further books in the Enrico Albyvendie series and recently published his sixth novel.

Books by Colin Peck


Buy Colin Peck’s books
Amazon Author Page –

I hope you enjoy and please feel free to reblog and share. 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 – 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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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 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