This article gave me a little prod of encouragement when it comes to marketing. I’m clearly not putting enough energy into my efforts and I need to re-double this for my forthcoming novel ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Auntie Rose was the first to notice something amiss that morning. She’d taken the first tray of spice-fragrant samosas from the oven and set them down to cool. She’d just returned to the stove when she heard a crash. She turned, cloth in hand, to find the tray up-ended and freshly-baked samosas strewn across the floor. Albertina came running from the stoep where she’d been sweeping, still holding the broom.
“What happened Auntie Rose? Did you drop the tray?”
“No, I put it on the table. I don’t understand how it could have fallen.” She bent down awkwardly to pick up the spilled samosas.
“Wait, Auntie Rose, let me.” Albertina crouched down and swiftly replaced the little savouries on the tray. She stood up. “No one will ever know,” she smiled at Auntie Rose. “The floor’s clean.”
Auntie Rose grinned toothlessly (she wasn’t one to wear out her false teeth by using them). “Cleaner that the people’s hands, anyway.” She looked at the tray. “That’s strange.” She stared around at the floor. “Did you get them all up?”
“I think so, why?
“Six are missing. Someone came in here while my back was turned.”
Albertina pulled a puzzled face. “But how did they get in? I was at the front sweeping the stoep, Auntie Grace is in the back room doing her knitting, and the window’s much too small for anyone to climb through.”
Just then they heard shouting coming from the road outside. Albertina snatched up her broom and hurried out followed by Auntie Rose; behind them came Auntie Grace, clutching her knitting.
Abdul was staring down the road in the direction of the harbour. The display table outside his shop had been overturned and all the pots and pans and gadgets and gizmos had spilled across the ground. A big blue football lolled in the road.
Albertina picked up the ball. “What happened?” she asked handing to Abdul.
“I only caught a glimpse of it,” Abdul said, retrieving a stack of brightly coloured plastic bowls from the floor. ‘Some kind of animal, about this high; he indicated a height just above his knee. Brown and very hairy.” Abdul shook his head. “I thought I heard it mumbling something though.” He shrugged his shoulders.
Abdul glanced down the road. There was nobody in sight, but there was a trail of footprints; small and wide with huge toes. Albertina’s hand went to her mouth; the other hand gripped the broom tightly. “Tokoloshe!” she exclaimed. She dropped the broom and ran past the aunties and through the house to her little room in the back yard.
Abdul looked questioningly from Auntie Rose to Auntie Grace as he walked over to them. “What did she say?”
Auntie Grace snorted. “Tokoloshe. There’s no such thing. A creature made up to scare naughty children. It’s more likely a young baboon.”
“Well, something stole my samosas,” said Auntie Rose walking into the road and looking down at the footprints. She pointed at the tracks. “Look, crumbs as well. That was my thief.”
Abdul and the two aunties stood contemplating the line of strange footprints. Moments later Albertina re-appeared. “I’m going for bricks,” she announced as she picked up the broom, brandishing it in front of her like a battle standard, and marched down the road in her bright pink pumps and second best wig.
“Bricks?” said Abdul frowning.
“To make the beds higher so the Tokoloshe can’t get you in the night… so they say,” Auntie Rose explained to the baffled Abdul.
“They’re short and they can’t climb,” added Auntie Grace. “Like us,” she glanced at her sister and giggled.
Abdul shook his head. He’d led a very sheltered life growing up as he had in Cape Town’s District Six.
Nearing the harbour, Albertina noticed more signs of the Tokoloshe’s passage. Overturned baskets and fruit lay scattered across the road; grimy hand prints were smeared across shop windows and ransacked dirt bins had spilled their contents. Dogs were barking everywhere and people were scratching their heads and surveying the mess. As she passed Andreas’s café, she was almost knocked over by the wiry café owner and three other men, one of whom she recognised as the man called Johannes who habitually sat by the harbour and had greeted her so nicely when she’d first arrived in the town.
“My dear, just the thing!” the man behind Johannes exclaimed, looking at the broom in Albertina’s hand. He put his hand on the broom. “May I?”
Albertina snatched it away, frowning crossly at him.
“My dear, I simply want to borrow it. It will help us catch the creature that I, the Professor,” he put a hand to his chest and bowed his head slightly, “so unwisely unleashed.”
“You mean it was you? You made a Tokoloshe?” Albertina said warily, looking up at the large, red-faced man.
“Tokoloshe..? No, my dear, I don’t think it’s…”
A hairy brown shape appeared from the side of the building,
“That’s him!” the Professor pointed.
Johannes reacted swiftly, running towards the creature, arms outstretched, forcing it towards the lean-to at the side of the building, while calling to his friend Sam to do the same. Sam who, Albertina noticed, smelt rather strongly of fish, ran across to block its escape. Albertina advanced with her broom. The creature glared back at them, trapped in a corner.
“Now what do we do?” asked Andreas.
“I need gold! Give me gold!” the creature chanted.
The Professor took a step towards it. “I don’t think you’re in a position to make demands.”
The creature stuck out its tongue. Then it let out a wild shriek. It tried to dodge past Sam, but Albertina was too quick. She shoved the broom in the creature’s chest, pinning it to the floor where it thrashed about.
“That’s what it said this morning, when I stupidly prized open this old chest I’d bought the other day. I didn’t know there was anything in it, but I was curious. I didn’t have a key you see and…”
The creature continued to struggle, grinding its teeth unpleasantly.
“Do something!” Albertina shouted. “I can’t stand here forever.”
Sam reached into his pocket and carefully drew out a small object, wrapped in a piece of oily rag. He opened the rag and held it out in front of the creature. “Here now, this is gold.”
“A real gold coin?” Albertina whispered, glancing at Sam in awe.
“Gold!” The creature groped the air with its long, grimy fingers. “Give me.”
Sam tossed the coin toward the creature. It caught it in its hand and started to laugh, but the laugh became a scream. The creature suddenly went limp. Albertina pulled the broom away gingerly. The creature’s body started to fade until all that remained of the creature was a dark stain on the floor.
Albertina crouched down, searching the floor. “Where’s the coin?”
But that too had disappeared.
In case you were wondering about the tokoloshe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikoloshe
Teresa, The Haunted Wordsmith – nominated me to participate in the Tell The Story Challenge a week or so ago (this one slipped down the back of my desk temporarily).
This is the photo for the challenge.
Write a story about the picture you’re given.
Select 3 nominees.
Give them a new picture.
Georgie is a trusting kind of kid; obedient too. Each Saturday morning he dutifully departs to his piano practice with elderly eccentric Zephaniah Zimmerman, even though the open maw of the grand piano, with its great grinning gnashers, smirks at his inability to transverse their scales.
He’s always very smartly turned out, although his mother’s sartorial choices are not to everybody’s taste. Including Georgie’s. But even at the tender age of six, he rises above the taunts and sniggers.
That’s because Georgie has a secret. He leads a double life. Georgie disappears into other worlds.
You see, Georgie reads books.
Despite the rules to nominate three people, I think this time I’ll just throw it open and see what comes back.
What’s the story behind this old photo? I could tell you…
Write a story about the picture you’re given.
Select 3 nominees.
Give them a new picture.
Uncle Foss’s Library
Catherine loved books which was just as well as she had very few friends other than the characters in the stories she read. Fortunately she wasn’t short of these, as there were so very many books in her uncle’s library. Uncle Foss had been her guardian ever since she could remember. He had engaged various tutors over the years, as had been stipulated in her wardship agreement, but none had lasted long. Catherine had therefore educated herself, partly under her uncle’s guidance, through the perusal of the wealth of knowledge which was contained between the covers of his extensive library.
No books in Uncle Foss’s library were forbidden or out of bounds, although there were certain high shelves that he’d steered her away from, saying she’d enjoy those books better when she was older. But now, a few days away from her fifteenth birthday, while her uncle had been occupied in Town, she’d climbed the library ladder and removed three interesting-looking volumes which she’d been considering for some weeks now. At almost fifteen she was certain she was ready for the high shelves.
Back in her room after supper and a game of backgammon with her uncle, she chose the smallest book. It was old, bound in finely tooled black leather with silver embossed letters on the front which read: ‘Faerie Folk and Mischievous Creatures – A Guide’. Catherine had loved magic and fantasy stories since she was a little girl. She started to read.
“They are as old as the oldest hills and their presence is clings on even in the most rational minds, deep within our collective memory. Ancient and modern, of both sexes, and neither good nor ill, they live long, long lives, then disappear as ash on the wind.” Catherine started as the window behind her rattled. She looked round, but it was just the oak trees branches brushing against the glass. Storm clouds were gathering, covering the bright face of the new moon.
“Although of the earth, they are otherworldly, living between our world and theirs. Rarely noticed, they appear at the periphery of our vision, hidden in plain sight…”
Out of the corner of her eye, Catherine suddenly noticed a movement behind the nightstand next to her bed; a mouse? But no, it hadn’t moved like a mouse, and she was sure she’d seen a flash of scarlet.
There was a knock at the door. Her uncle entered, smiling. He crossed the room and gently took the little book from her hands. “It’s time, Catherine,” he said. His face lit up with excitement, “time to introduce you to the other members of our household.”
So, my nominees are:
Amartya, Jumbled Letters
Dr Tanya, Salted Caramel
One Life, Tap My Toes
A story, a verse, a vision? See where this takes you.
The bell over the shop door jingles as Abdul pushes it open wide and sniffs the salty air of the pre-dawn morning. Despite the early hour, the two aunties who live in the tiny whitewashed stone building opposite are already busy on their stoep, sitting at their wide wooden table peeling a small mountain of vegetables. The aunties are always busy: knitting or sewing, mending and altering; or making rotis and other goodies to sell by the harbour. That’s how they manage.
Abdul manages too. He sells all sorts of Useful Things. Indeed, that is what his shop is called. It might be a pot or a pan, a fishing net, or a rod and line. Or maybe something more exotic, like an oyster knife or an implement for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. If you can’t find it anywhere else, then Abdul is sure to have it. You only have to ask.
He steps outside and looks up. He grins. It’s an auspicious day. A sliver of a new moon, Venus and Jupiter form a precise alignment in the eastern sky: bringing love, happiness and maybe wealth and adventure, he thinks. And something more. Abdul hurries across the dusty road to greet the two aunties.
Auntie Grace looks up from her peeling. “Have you been consulting with your heavenly bodies, Abdul?” she says with a twinkle in her eye. Auntie Grace is over ninety, the brown skin of her face is still smooth though, and she loves to tease.
Abdul inclines his head.
“And what are they telling us?”
Abdul repeats his thoughts to them.
Auntie Rose holds up a long strand of potato peeling triumphantly. “There. All in one go. We will have good luck.” She grins up at Abdul toothlessly. Her face is nut-brown and deeply wrinkled although she’s some ten years her sister’s junior.
“Most certainly, in that case,” replies Abdul. “Did you buy your lottery ticket this week?”
“Of course.” Auntie Grace reaches inside her capacious bosom and draws out the ticket.
Auntie Rose chuckles and reaches inside her pocket. “A day to put my teeth in then,” she gurns, before slipping in her dentures.
Abdul smiles, puts his two hands together and bows his head to the Aunties, before hurrying back to the shop to arrange the display on the table in front of his shop window. The other shopkeepers are opening up now and everyone nods and waves to each other. It’s a friendly little community.
The day goes well for Abdul. He’s sold an entire dinner service by eleven o’clock, and someone else is coming back later with the money for a small mahogany table which Abdul has lovingly polished every day for a month.
Later in the afternoon a tall woman, carrying two bulging holdalls comes into the shop. She’s looking for an oil lamp. ‘Something which doesn’t need electric,’ she says. ‘Not a candle,’ she adds emphatically. The woman is about Abdul’s age, he guesses; neither young nor old. She wears a long skirt and a rather obvious wig, he notices. He hasn’t seen her before. He wonders if she’s new to the town, but he’s too shy to ask. He thinks for a moment then finds exactly the lamp she’s looking for. He throws in a small container of kerosene for free and her face lights up. She stuffs her purchases into one of her bags. Abdul hold the shop door for her and watches as she slowly walks away, her head held high.
Now he’s eager for the working day to end. He has something to do and this is the very day on which he must do it. He saw the syzygy, the particular alignment, in the early morning sky. Abdul’s eyes stray to a large, cracked leather-bound volume which stands on his highest shelf, partly concealed behind a bulbous copper kettle.
It had been the aunties who had given him the book more than a year ago. Written as it was in Arabic, they’d had no use for it. It had just been taking up space, Auntie Rose had said. But it had come with a stern warning from Auntie Grace. She’d recalled mention in their family of some strange ‘happening’ when her grandfather had read it aloud in his room one night during a full moon. Abdul had smiled and shaken his head. His Arabic wasn’t so good, he’d said. And it hadn’t been until he’d begun to try to read the book.
Now he’s pretty much fluent.
As soon as he’s locked up the shop at precisely five o’clock, Abdul carefully lifts the book down from the shelf and disappears into his little private room and the back of the shop. All goes quiet. Nobody notices when much later that evening a strange curl of reddish smoke rises from the back of the shop, or a peculiar, over-sweet odour wafts away on the strengthening estuary breeze.
Across the road, the aunties are jumping up and down like spring chickens, having netted a nice little lottery win. Not life-changing, but certainly life-improving, they say to each other. Rose puts her dentures back in to celebrate with a toothy grin.
Neither of them sees the fish eagle as it flies in a graceful arc, up over their little house to the harbour, curving round across the estuary mouth to head down the river towards the salt flats where it wheels again and flies over the marina and out to sea, hugging the coast, looking down at the fishing boats in the coves along the coast. The bird alights briefly on the headland opposite the harbour then, as if satisfied, returns to whence it came, disappearing behind the workshops and warehouses which line the harbour.
Abdul doesn’t see the aunties until they return from church the following day. They stand beaming outside his shop, peering in until he comes to the door. He pokes his head out, but unusually, he doesn’t step outside, expressing his congratulations on their news from his side of the door.
Auntie Rose takes a step forward and reaches up. She plucks a feather from his beard and holds it out to her sister. Auntie Grace peers round the door and notices something odd about the way Abdul is standing. She glances down. She nudges her sister and nods at Abdul’s feet which are mostly hidden by his long white shirt and matching trousers. He shuffles his feet awkwardly.
“What’s the matter with your toes?” says Auntie Rose. Abdul looks at her, then down at his feet. The claws which poke out from his sandals are unmistakable.
“The book?” asks Auntie Grace.
Inspired by ‘Korfiyah’ by Cape Town artist, Solly Gutman – visit his website for more of his wonderful artwork
Albertina throws the remains of her black coffee onto the dusty ground outside the door and stuffs her little tin mug into the top of a bulging holdall which stands by a similarly stuffed canvas bag next to the open door. As she finishes chewing the crust of bread she’s saved for her breakfast, she adjusts her second best wig and looks around the sparse shack which has been her home for the past few months: Time to move on.
Albertina snatches up the two heavy bags, which contain all her worldly goods, and strides out into the early morning. She holds her head up and sticking her nose in the air, walks past the people busy with their cooking fires and washing bowls. She will not miss them and she will not miss the location, with its noise and dust and people fighting and drinking long into the night. Her son is settled in a farm school and he has a roof over his head. He’s with people who’ll take better care of him that she can, far away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol, underage sex and communicable diseases which are all that life has to offer young people in the location.
Fifteen minutes of steady walking bring Albertina to the edge of the freeway. She is aware of the weight of the bags that she’s carrying, but she’s used to it, used to carrying all her belongings with her; you can’t risk leaving anything unattended for long in a shack. The traffic is heavy and the hot dirty wind from the road tugs at her long skirts. Albertina trudges on as far as the service station where she stops near the exit to the parking area. Here she will get her first lift. She takes out a tightly folded twenty rand note from where is has been tucked inside her clothing and flattens it out, smoothing over the creases. She holds it out ready to each passing vehicle.
It’s not long before a large blue truck pulls up beside her. Its air-brakes hiss loudly. The driver leans over and extends a thick brown arm to open the passenger door for her. Albertina looks up at him. For a moment they scrutinize each other. He looks okay, she thinks, but she’s still wary. She tries to read his face. The driver breaks into a gap-toothed grin and asks her where she’s going.
Albertina shrugs. ‘Just onwards,’ she smiles cautiously.
‘I’m going up the coast,’ he replies.
Albertina nods. One direction is as good as another. The coast sounds nice: fresh. Why not? Something will turn up. She hefts her bags into the foot-well and, gathering up her skirts, climbs nimbly into the cab. The driver indicates the seat belt and reaches over to help her. His hand brushes briefly against her left breast. She looks at him sharply but his attention is already focused on the road as he pulls away.
He eases the heavy vehicle out onto the busy highway, turning the radio up loudly. Albertina is grateful for the music; she doesn’t like to chat. She looks out of the window watching the sprawl of scruffy shacks give way to a patch of open land, then more buildings: huge, bland industrial buildings. She briefly wonders what goes on inside. The truck driver taps on the steering wheel along with the music, apart from when he’s jabbing at the horn or muttering an obscenity at some other road user. She winces inwardly at the words.
The truck turns off the freeway and onto the west coast highway. The traffic is calmer and there is only bush and scrub beyond the edge of the tarmac. Albertina gazes out across the open country; the ocean is faintly discernible, a clear azure strip below the wide African sky. She winds down her window a little. The driver turns to her – they haven’t so much as exchanged names – and suggests they stop for a break. He needs to stretch his legs. Albertina nods and leans forward to reach inside the pocket of her holdall.
There is a rest stop a kilometre ahead: three sets of concrete tables with concrete stools surrounding them, set back from the road under a stand of shady trees. They have the place to themselves. The driver parks up and jumps out of the cab. He strides round the front and opens the passenger door for Albertina. He offers her a hand to help her down, which she takes. Albertina’s bright pink pumps hit the ground lightly; the driver keeps hold of her hand and pulls her gently sideways, away from the door. Their eyes meet as he takes a step towards her. She takes a step back. He smiles pleasantly. ‘Come now,’ he says, ‘a little something for my trouble.’ He closes in and Albertina is caught between him and the side of the truck.
Quick as a flash she whips out her little steel knife and holds the point against the side of his neck. The man’s eyes widen. He steps back, holding up his hands out in surprise. It is now Albertina’s turn to advance. She sets her face in a steely glare and, although inside her heart is fluttering with fear, she takes a step forward and stops within striking distance, knife raised. The man remains still. A long minute passes. A couple of cars go by; a bird shrieks in the tree above them. Then all is quiet.
Loud music breaks the silence heralding the arrival of a bright red sports car. It draws up sharply behind the truck raising a cloud of dust. The man looks around but Albertina’s gaze remains fixed on him. Car doors open and the music blares out even more loudly. High female voices call out to each other. Paying no attention to the truck or the two people beside it they unload a cooler box from the car and dump it on the nearest table.
The driver holds out his hands, palms upward. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ he says quickly. Albertina glances towards the noisy group of girls. She lowers the knife.
‘I’m getting your bags,’ the man says firmly. Albertina nods. Moments later he bags are on the ground and the truck is starting up. Albertina watches calmly as he drives away. She picks them up and goes to sit at the table behind her. She looks across at the four long-limbed blonde-headed girls who are sipping from cans of cool drink.
‘Hey!’ One of the girls gets up and walks over to Albertina. ‘Ag, no! Did that guy just leave you here?’ She looks round at her friends and back at Albertina. ‘Shame, man!’ Another girl approaches and asks where she’s going. Albertina gestures vaguely up the road.
Albertina now becomes the centre of attention. The skimpily-clad young women gather round and one of them fetches a cool drink for her; they all mutter darkly about the skelm driver. Albertina is a little overwhelmed, but happily accepts the offer of a lift. They can’t take her to where they’re staying, of course, but the nearest town will surely be fine. Albertina nods. It will surely be fine.
And so, after a whirlwind of a drive in the noisy little sports car, with its loud music and louder girls, and the howling wind which forced her to remove her second best wig, so as not to lose it out of the open window, Albertina finds herself back on foot, carrying her two bulging bags into a busy little coastal town. By late afternoon, she’s found her way down to the harbour. She sets her bags down and stares out across the ocean. She breathes in the sharp, salty air and looks around; she has a good feeling about the place. Something will turn up, she thinks.
©2019 Chris Hall
We’d heard rumours of strange reptilian creatures stalking the lands beyond our borders. We’d not paid much attention. Similarly, we’d dismissed the reports which were sent back from the Palace Guard’s intelligence team who patrolled the perimeter of our kingdom. Men, far away from home are prone to flights of fancy and over-exaggeration. However, when the creatures did appear they were quite beyond imagination.
One spring morning they came, floating down from the fluffy white clouds under little canopies of sky-blue silk. We watched from our roof tops and our high city walls as they landed, then marched upon us, fanning out around the entire circumference of the city. We’d closed the heavy outer gates, pulled up the drawbridge and manned the battlements. But it was not enough. They were too large, too strong, too determined. And there were so many of them.
Our archers fired on them, but the arrows bounced off their patterned breast plates and scaly bodies. Within the hour they had peeled back our gates and smashed down our ramparts with their huge taloned paws. Our swords and spears were no match for them either. Once they had entered the city, they unslung their weapons and fired beams of sound and light which turned men to dust.
People scattered before them. Those who were too old or too slow were scooped up in their great scaly arms and flung aside with a force that snapped necks and broke bones. One of the creatures pulled a bleating goat from its tether and bit the poor animal’s head off. Then it split the body in two and tossed each half to its comrades who marched on either side.
What was left of the Palace Guard formed a ring around the entrance to the Sanctum where our queen and her council were gathered. The creatures filled the main square; row upon row of them. They stood in their ranks, facing our guards. Silence fell, punctuated only by the groans of the injured and the laments of the bereaved.
Then one of the creatures stepped forward; the symbols on its breastplate finer and more intricate than the rest. It advanced up the steps to face the Commander of the Palace Guard. Bringing a huge, scaly paw down on the Commander’s left shoulder it leant forward, forked tongue flickering.
At that moment, there was a strange roaring noise and suddenly, out of thin air a mysterious object appeared. A huge, great storage vessel, rather like the ones we use to store oil or wine, but much larger and made of a dull, grey metal. A door in the side of the object slid open and a tall, willowy figure dressed in a flowing silver gown appeared. The creatures in the square turned towards her, low whistling sounds emanating from their nostrils. They cowed their heads. She raised a shiny black staff and pointed it at their leader. She spoke and although her words were incomprehensible to us, we knew they were full of power. The lizard leader muttered something. She said a single, potent word and it vanished in a puff of smoke. Then she turned her shiny black staff on the massed ranks of creatures. Pop, pop, pop. They all disappeared. Then without a word, she returned to the vessel and the door closed behind her. The roaring noise sounded and the vessel was gone.
The old man finished his story and stared into the distance. Someone asked him a question.
“True? You ask me if my story’s true? Evidence?” He paused. “Well, if you look carefully there are some scorch marks near the entrance to the Sanctum.” The old man held up his finger. “And, I believe, fine sky-blue silk underwear is still worn here by women of a certain age.”