One Last Chance

Planet Earth watercolour painting by Elena Mozhvilo@miracleday Unsplash

Great Being Five had been twiddling her thumbs for too long at the Academy for Wisdom¹. Over the decades she’d re-educated many recalcitrant Great Beings and re-engineered their wrong-doings. She’d set them all back on the straight and narrow, repentant of their misdeeds in the management of their planets. But now she was bored.

True, she still retained responsibility for two planets, but one was still at the ‘rocks and slime stage’ and the other, Orea, the one she used to love so much, with its pretty pastel colours and cute, fluffy life-forms, was… well, just a little bit dull.

Five was missing her beautiful blue planet. Planet Earth, which she’d finally decided to delete² back in Earth Year 2033, before the greedy, selfish little humans destroyed it themselves and took off to infect another planet.

She missed those fallible little creatures. Back in the day, before they had too many technical toys at their disposal, they were such fun. So creative! Five sighed as a wave of nostalgia broke over her desk and splashed off her Universal Viewing Screen.

Back in the day. The thought crossed and re-crossed her mind.

It lingered while a plan formed.

She’d done it before, and she could do it again. As a top official in the Academy, she had both the authority and the autonomy. All she needed to do was turn back Time in that small solar system on the edge of the Milky Way. 

Once before she’d re-set Planet Earth, but sadly it hadn’t had much effect; soon the arrogant little inhabitants were back on the road to their inevitable existential fate. This time needed to be different. A planet-wide change of mind-set must be effected.

She knew just the Being to help her.

Five dropped a mind message to her first re-education subject, the one she knew best and her greatest success. She immediately sensed his enthusiasm for the project. He was primed and ready for action. She would take care of the Time-Grid and he would set up the means for a mind-set change.

He warned her it would be radical.
He warned her it would be tough.
He warned her it would take time.

She agreed.

Five aligned the Time-Grid: 01.01.2020.
A nice round number; not long before The Total Tipping Point.

She sat back. Watched and waited.

Planet Earth reappeared in its old position. The little humans had ceased their scurrying. They’d hunkered down and huddled in their homes. Five was saddened at the sickness and the suffering; the deaths of the elderly, the poorly and the poor.

The Earth turned and turned again
day after day
month after month.

Skies cleared. Rivers ran clean. Nature thrived and re-asserted itself.
The planet cooled down a little.

When the scourge passed, the little humans emerged. They had changed and the change came from within; a new understanding of their beautiful blue planet.

Five mind-melded with her colleague: thanks, Nineteen.

She hoped her little humans would get it right now.


¹ For the Greater Good
² And finally she pulled the plug

Photo credit: watercolour painting by Elena Mozhvilo

Review – A Sextet Of Shorts by Chris Hall

What a very pleasant surprise it was when Joe Leonardi, aka the Short Story Scribe, emailed me the other day to say he’d enjoyed my slim volume of short stories; and now he’s posted such an encouraging review.

Do please check out Joe’s work too: he’s recently published a new novella entitled ‘The Comfort of Despair’.  I’ve got my copy, have you?

Short Story Scribe

A Sextet of Shorts by [Hall, Chris]I enjoy good short stories, and in thisSextet of Shorts, Chris Hall does an amazing job. Each story is complete and fulfilling, and left me wanting for just a bit more.

My favorites are “The Swindler,” because it left me thinking, and “A New Friend for Henry,” because it left me smiling.

Chris Hall, as usual, tells some good stories. Stories I highly recommend.

A Sextet of Shorts is available on Amazon.com  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C1NC397


“Who the hell am I?”20190630_1305207795170130459536580.jpg

I am an independent, self-published teller of tales,
an author, as of yet, scarcely any renown.
However, as a storyteller, I know who I am,
and with that persona, I am both confident and comfortable. I invite you to visit my website,

ShortStoryScribe.com

and/or Amazon Author Pages

Joe Leonardi              Scono Sciuto

if you are so inclined please
purchase a copy and leave a review.

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A new dawn

Treetops by Nigel Whitehead
‘Tree tops’ by Nigel Whitehead

From my Flash Fiction Collection

Great Being Five was having a bad day. The worst day she’d ever had since she’d decided to delete planet Earth. She’d known she had to do it, but still she regretted it. What she also regretted was agreeing to collaborate with Great Being Nineteen on his newly relocated planet. What a nightmare that had turned out to be.

After the destruction of Earth, Great Being Nineteen had given his barren little red planet a nudge, moving it gently into the Earth’s old orbit. Deferring to her experience of the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ he’d asked her to set up the basic building blocks for life, most essentially, the liquid water. The planet already had important elements like carbon and nitrogen; it even had ready-made continents and a slightly defunct volcanic system which just required a little kick-start to give the planet more energy.

She’d carefully retrieved the Earth’s old moon and substituted for Mars’ own two moons which she felt weren’t really up to the job. They were too small and misshapen and she hated their forbidding names which reminded her of all the worst qualities of her erstwhile earthlings. Who in their right mind would call their nearest heavenly bodies Phobos and Deimos – fear and dread?

Being thrifty she had put them in storage in an empty part of the universe. They might come in useful for something, although Great Being Nineteen would probably auction them off.

She sighed as she looked across the surface of the red planet. It had gone so well initially, especially after she’d introduced the blue-green algae. The warmth of the now-nearer sun had allowed them to photosynthesize and voilà, oxygen levels increased rapidly, an ozone layer formed and the plant developed an atmosphere. It had been a long wait, but as far as Great Being Five was concerned, it was party time.

As she and Great Being Nineteen toasted their success, the bickering began. First of all they couldn’t agree on a name. It needed something new, bright and vibrant, but all their brainstorming only ended in bitter recrimination. Great Being Nineteen wanted something tough and macho-sounding. Five told him tersely that it really wouldn’t do. What sort of tone would that set for a new world? Eventually, they decided to ‘park’ the problem until the planet developed a character of its own.

The next bone of contention was how they would develop the aesthetic. Great Being Nineteen really had no idea. They browsed among the galaxies, searching for ideas, but nothing really grabbed them. Eventually Five decided to show him her lovely planet in Alpha Centauri, proudly lifting the subtle cloaking device she’d installed to keep it hidden from predatory interstellar life forms.

He wasn’t impressed. “Just birds and trees and flowers? Where’s the interest? Where’s the ultimate struggle for survival?”

Five had turned away in disgust, washing her hands of the whole project. Let him do as he wants, she thought, and turned her attention to adding some pretty pastel coloured animals to the dappled woodlands of her lovely planet; all herbivores, of course. And then, finally, she settled upon its name. Her lovely planet would be known as Orea.

But over the millennia she couldn’t resist the odd little peak at Nineteen’s handiwork.

Over time, Great Being Nineteen had named his planet Ferox and had introduced an interesting collection of flora and fauna. He’d raided the Earth archives she’d shared with him and picked out the most predatory creatures he could find. Huge raptors circled the skies, carnivores red in tooth and claw stalked the plains and forests, killer whales patrolled the oceans. Happily there were no war-mongering bipeds… yet.

Five had to admit his collection of big cats were beautiful, as she scanned the planet; but, wait, what was that tiger eating? She peered at her viewing screen more closely. What she saw filled her with horror.

She flicked her monitor over to Orea. Where were all the furry mammals? She roved among the woodland glades. Not a pink fluffy bunny in sight! And where were the birds?

She returned her attention to Ferox just in time to see a raptor gobble up one of her red-gold sun-birds in mid-flight. Everywhere she looked were signs of the carnage; a handful of bright feathers here, a sorry lump of pastel-coloured fur there.

He’d ransacked her lovely planet. It had to be him! No-one else knew about Orea. How could he do such a thing? She wept for the loss of her beautiful benign creatures.

Finally her lament ceased. Great Being Five brushed away her tears.

She had a plan. She would re-set her planet. Ctrl-alt-delete, turn back the clock, then repopulate.

Then she had her best idea.

Adopting an anonymous thought-pattern, she sent a mind-message to Great Being Nineteen. “I have some very exciting new stock you might be interested in.” She smiled to herself as she dropped the thought into his brain. “It will add a real ‘wow factor’ to the planet I hear you’re working on,” she floated an image of a couple of dragons in flight in front of him. “But you’ll need to come in person.”

She gave him the co-ordinates.

Great Being Nineteen arrived on the surface of the planet. It looked familiar, very much like that soppy planet of Five’s, but he was certain he’d never visited this part of the Dark Universe. He stared around. Where was this new stock the dealer had offered him?

Over on the bright side of the universe Five hit the keyboard, glancing at her monitor to see the empty space which Orea had previously occupied.

She hit the keyboard again and entered another complex sequence into the system. Orea reappeared, recently returned from the furthest corner of the universe where she had dumped a few unwanted items. Orea was as lush as ever and ready for new life.

Suddenly it wasn’t a bad day after all.

©2019 Chris Hall

And finally, she pulled the plug

She pulled the plug by Chris Hall lunasonline

From my Flash Fiction Collection

And now there was nothing left of what had been her beautiful blue planet. Great Big Five sighed. She had given them chance after chance. She had very nearly deleted the entire human race in Earth Year 2018. Only that little message which flashed up after she had hit the big red button had given her pause.

Do you really want to DELETE?

No, she hadn’t. She’d cancelled the request. Sat back and watched and waited for fifteen Earth Years more. She’d watched the greedy, selfish humans squander more and more of the precious resources of her pretty planet. Barren soil blew away, the oceans turned to acid, the very atmosphere was toxic. Some of the little humans had tried to avert the crisis. They’d spoken out. Even important, influential ones had acted, added their voices. There were protests, social media campaigns, new policies agreed and implemented; the planet had staggered on, but it was all too little, too late.

Meanwhile others had been working on a plan. Done with the Earth, they would move on. Move to another planet. Their neighbour: the red planet. Clever little humans!

Never mind what they’d done to the animals and birds, the trees and flowers, the mountains and lakes. All her best work they’d left in tatters.

She had mind-melded with Great Being Nineteen. The red planet was under his jurisdiction. She had suspected he had plans. With Earth out of the way, he could move his smaller red planet nearer to its sun, into what her imaginative earthlings called the Goldilocks Zone, after one of their sweet little stories. Allow something new to evolve. He’d even let her collaborate on his project.

You have activated Planet Total Destruction. Are you sure you want to do this?

She did.

They couldn’t be allowed to spread their wicked ways.

©2019 Chris Hall

 

Fury

Superpower by Chris Hall lunasonline

Sandra’s superpowers had come as a surprise. Caused by a faulty connection in her washing machine, the freak accident had dumped her on the floor. She’d felt rather odd after that, sending out electric shocks at the most inopportune moments. It was only when she’d touched the interactive display at the mall and the whole panel had exploded that she’d realised their potential.

So many wrongs which need righting, it was hard to know where to start; but the people who had rejected her writing were at the top of her list.

Hell hath no fury like an author scorned.


Written in response to The Haunted Wordsmith’s Prompt May 13, 2019

Can you look again?

000 HW Prompt 28.04.19
Source

What do you see, Tiger Lily?

I see the moon.
I see the path shining in front of me, illuminated in the bright moonlight.

What else?

Nothing else.

What do you feel, Tiger Lily?

I feel the dampness of the night.
I feel the ground, wet beneath my feet.

What do you hear, Tiger Lily?

I hear waves breaking on a shore far away.
Do I hear you breathing?
Why can’t I see you?

What do you smell, Tiger Lily?

I smell the dampness of the earth.
Nothing else.
Where are you?

What do you taste, Tiger Lily

I taste nothing.
Just emptiness.

What do you remember, Tiger Lily?

I remember when we first met; on a moon-bright night like this.
I remember… everything.

And what do you want, Tiger Lily?

I want you back.


Written in response to The Haunted Wordsmith’s Daily Prompt 28.04.19

A Candlelit Evening

Candlelit evening by Chris Hall lunasinline photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Wrapped in her fluffy pink robe she glides into the beautiful bathroom. Hot water gushes from swan-shaped tabs into a large claw-footed tub. The light is subdued. Rose-scented candles glow seductively, reflected in the slightly-smoked full length mirror with its glittering frame of hand-picked pink quartz tiles. She pauses and turns around. What has she forgotten?

Moments later she reappears carrying a large crystal glass containing her favourite mouth-filling red wine.

The white-tiled floor is glossy, and slippery with an unnoticed sheen of steam. She strides forward and suddenly…

She’s on the floor, prone on those pricey ice-white tiles. She hesitates for just a moment and then rises to her feet. She stands facing the mirror, but something’s wrong. Where’s her reflection? She focuses on the one missing tile on the far corner of the frame, still not mended, but when she looks back, her face is still absent.

Her gaze travels down the misting mirror. What’s that on the floor behind her? She turns and sees a pink robed figure. Spilled red blood mingles with spilled red wine. She raises her hand to her mouth to suppress a scream, but there is no hand, no mouth.

There is nothing.



Written in response to The Haunted Wordsmith’s
Main March Madness13 ‘A Ghost’
and with a nod to a scene from Michael Connelly’s ‘Dark Sacred Night’.

The Tokoloshe

 

Tokaloshe

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

A Job and a Place to Stay

A Job and a Place to Stay by Chris Hall lunasonline
©Cliff Davies 2017

Sunlight wakes Albertina early and for a moment she can’t think where she is. Shaking off a bad dream, she smells salt and ozone on the air, and hears gulls keening. She sighs with relief; she’s not in the Location.

Albertina is staying in a little bolt-hole behind the old fish factory. The factory is clearly disused, but there’s a little shed with an unlocked door and an outside tap on the corner of one of the main buildings which still works.

After just two days in the little town by the sea Albertina’s running out of money; she needs to find a job. A proper place to stay would be nice, but the job’s more important just now.

Albertina washes at the tap; she doesn’t mind the cold water. In fact, she prefers it. She puts on a long purple skirt, a frilly white blouse and a little fringed jacket that someone gave her a few months ago. She takes out her little handbag mirror and rummages in her bag for make-up. She applies turquoise eye shadow and a thick smear of bright red lipstick, before donning her second best wig. She’s nowhere to admire the overall effect, but she’ll take a look in the first shop window she passes.

Next she takes out her big blue handbag with the shiny gold buckle and thrusts her most important possessions into its capacious depths. She stows the two holdalls which contain the remainder of her worldly goods under a pile of old pallets.

Ready for action, Albertina trots towards the main road where there are several shops, a hotel and the place where she’d really like to work; a hair salon. She’s worked in one before; she’d only been sweeping up, folding towels and tiding, but she loved the buzz of conversation, the music, bright lights and shiny mirrors. But after a few months they’d let her go, they never explained why. Albertina shrugs off that part of the memory and quickens her step.

She sees a group of shabby-looking people lounging against walls and staring empty-eyed at nothing much. Like everywhere in the country, unemployment is high, and hope is hard to come by. But Albertina is dressed in her best and can hold her head high. Confidence is her greatest asset today.

Albertina crosses the road to the salon, straightening her back and adjusting the handbag on her shoulder. She reaches for the door handle, then notices the sign. ‘Hair Affair’ doesn’t open for another half hour. She frowns and peers inside; there’s no sign of life. She turns on her heel and wanders along the row of shops. They’re all open, but she wants to start with the salon; it wouldn’t do to find another job before she’s even asked in there.

Her bright pink pumps take her down to the harbour. She’s still fascinated by the prettily painted boats and the way the sun sparkles on the blue water of the ocean beyond. An older man, sitting on a white plastic chair stroking the head of a scruffy little dog, looks up and nods a greeting to her. She smiles shyly and hurries on. It’s not the kind of attention she wants.

She skirts the harbour edge and after a few minutes finds herself by ‘Useful Things’, the shop where she bought her new oil lamp only the day before. A commotion at the front of the little house opposite catches her attention. The two little old aunties are marching up and down their stoep, noisily pulling the chairs from under the table, bending over and searching the floor. They both straighten up, as far as they can, one holds up her in the air, the other plants her hands on her hips and shakes her head.

She walks over and stands looking at them, her head on one side and a smile on her bright red lips.

‘Come,’ Auntie Rose beckons her onto the stoep. ‘She can help us look, can’t she, Auntie Grace?’

Auntie Grace nods and hurries over to open the little gate for Albertina. She takes hold of Albertina’s sleeve. ‘Come,’ she tugs at the sleeve, propelling Albertina towards the table. ‘Put your bag down here and help us look.’

‘She doesn’t know what we’re looking for,’ says Auntie Rose.

‘I was coming to that.’

Auntie Rose rolls her eyes and squints up at Albertina. ‘She’s lost her glasses,’ she points to her sister, ‘and I’ve lost my teeth,’ she explains gurning at Albertina. ‘My false teeth,’ she adds, in case Albertina misunderstands.

Albertina places her bag on the table and looks from one little auntie to the other. Immediately she notices the pair of glasses perched on Grace’s head. She points to her own head. Auntie Grace reaches up with one hand, pulls her glasses off her tightly cropped grey hair and holds them out to her sister, her eyebrows raised.

It’s Auntie Rose’s turn to put her hands on her hips. ‘I wasn’t looking there,’ she said indignantly. ‘You said they must have fallen on the floor, and anyway,’ she continued, ‘that’s where I was looking for my teeth.’

Albertina bends down to look under the table. As she does so, she notices a crescent-shaped bulge halfway down Auntie Rose’s rather tightly stretched pants’ leg. She stands up and points at the bulge. Auntie Rose looks down. Her hand goes to her thigh feeling the trapped object. She starts to giggle. She sits on the nearest chair and eases the object down past her knee. Still giggling she scoops the object up as it drops out of her pants leg and brandishes a set of teeth aloft. Both aunties burst into peals of laughter; such is their merriment that Albertina joins in too, her eyes darting about the stoep.

As the laughter dies down, Albertina seizes the brush which is leaning by the wall and starts to sweep the stoep. Albertina is a demon sweeper. The aunties watch as she whisks up the dust and crumbs and bits of fabric and thread which have accumulated under the table. She makes a neat pile and looks around. She grabs the little shovel that stands in the corner and deftly sweeps the pile onto it. She spies the dirt bin the other side of the wall and swiftly deposits the rubbish inside, before replacing the brush and shovel. She goes to pick up her bag, but Auntie Grace puts her hand on hers and points towards a chair. ‘Sit a moment.’

The sisters look at each other and something unspoken passes between them.

‘We could do with some help,’ says Auntie Grace. ‘We can’t pay a lot mind. There’s not so much to do but, you know, some of the heavier work…’

Albertina smiles, she could help the two funny little aunties and still try for a job in the salon, she thinks.

‘Where do you stay?’ asks Auntie Rose.

Albertina gestures vaguely at the road behind them.

The two aunties nod at each other and stand up. ‘Come and see,’ Auntie Grace says to Albertina as she heads into the house. Albertina picks up her handbag and follows her through the little kitchen to the back yard. Auntie Rose follows, her left leg swings awkwardly as she walks.

Out in the yard is a little Wendy house. Auntie Grace pulls the door open. ‘It needs a good clean but would you like to…’

Albertina throws her arms around Auntie Grace, who totters, slightly off balance. Auntie Grace laughs, disentangling herself.

‘There’s a little bathroom too,’ says Auntie Rose, pointing to a small lean-to next to the kitchen. ‘It only has cold water though…’

‘Albertina only washes in cold water,’ she says proudly.

Albertina 5

©2019 Chris Hall

/…previously

Treasure you can’t touch #1

Md Mahdi on Unsplash
Photo by Md Mahdi on Unsplash

Johannes was sitting in his usual seat by the edge of the harbour. He reached out to pet a scruffy little dog as it trotted up to him. The little dog didn’t seem to have an owner or a home, but all the same it seemed to do all right. The dog sat down in front of Johannes and raised one paw, looking up at him. Johannes smiled, reaching into his pockets and turning them inside out to reveal nothing but holes. “Sorry for you, my little brother,” he said to the dog. “I have nothing for you today.” The dog put its head on one side, continuing to look up at Johannes, then it stood up, shook itself, and gave a little bark before trotting away. Johannes watched the little dog’s progress, snuffling here and there along the edge of the harbour buildings.

A door opened to reveal a slim, grey-haired man in a red shirt. Andreas nodded in Johannes’s direction and raised a hand in greeting before turning his attention to the little dog. Andreas muttered something, then disappeared back inside the building. The little dog sat patiently by the open door until Andreas returned with a small plate of scraps which he set down on the ground; he gave the little dog’s head an affectionate rub as it bent to devour the food.

Johannes chuckled to himself and returned his gaze to the waterfront. The fishing boats had already returned to sea, but there was a big old cargo boat which was still undergoing repairs in the dry dock. The sound of drilling and hammering rattled around the buildings.

Just as Johannes was wondering what had happened to his young friend Sam for the second morning running, he heard the unmistakable putt-putt sound of Porcupine’s engine as Sam’s little fishing boat rounded the harbour wall. He rose from his seat and strolled over to meet the little boat. Porcupine slowed, then gently nudged the harbour wall. Sam cut the engine and threw the stern rope to Johannes who slipped it through the mooring ring before tossing it back to him. Sam jumped onto the quayside holding the other rope which he quickly tied off.

Johannes noticed the troubled look on Sam’s face. “What’s the matter with you, Sam?”

Sam raised his eyebrows and gestured for Johannes to follow him back onto Porcupine. Once on board, Sam opened the door to the little cabin. “Come,” he said flapping his hand over his shoulder to his friend. The two men crowded inside the tiny room. Sam shut the cabin door and crouched down to pull a large plastic bucket from under his narrow bunk-bed. He took the edge of the old blanket which was covering the bucket and pulled it back theatrically, revealing what was inside.

Johannes’s brown eyes widened and his mouth formed a big round ‘O’. After a moment’s silence, he let out a long, low whistle. “What have we here?” He squatted down in front of the bucket. “A pot of gold,” he said, admiring the mountain of gold coins which glowed in the dim light of the cabin. He reached out to take one. Sam grabbed his hand, snatching it away from the bucket and almost knocking Johannes over. Johannes stared up at him. “Wha…”

“Careful!” Sam held his right hand out to Johannes. “Look.” Johannes saw the imprint of a coin which marked Sam’s thumb and first two fingers like an angry burn. Gingerly Johannes reached towards the edge of one of the coins touching it lightly with his forefinger. As soon as he made contact with the coin, he jumped up, pulling his hand away. A blister was already beginning to form on his calloused digit.

Sam put his head on one side. “It’s a fortune, but you can’t touch it with your bare hands.” He shook his head and reached up to the shelf above his bunk, taking down a folded rag. He laid it on the blanket and opened carefully, revealing one of the coins. “So what can we do, my friend? I’ll gladly share all of this with you, if we can find a way to spend the treasure you can’t touch.”

Johannes leant on the cabin wall and rubbed his chin. “There must be a way, my brother.” He stared down at the coins. “But where did you find all of this? It didn’t just appear in your fishing bucket did it?”

“Would you believe me if I said it did?”

Johannes shrugged. “I didn’t believe something I saw with my very own eyes yesterday morning,” he said. “I tell you Sam, there are some strange things happening in this town, and no mistake.” He put his hands on his hips. “We’ll find a way, Sam.” He nodded slowly. “Yes, we’ll find a way.”

©2019 Chris Hall


In case you missed it:
– how the gold got into Sam’s fishing bucket
– what Johannes saw yesterday