Over the Moat

wordage

By

Rower

Pamela Lewis was born in Cambridge, England. She enjoys rowing which is a sport rarely associated with women even though it is a big deal in college towns like Cambridge. Pamela would have loved to have gone to Cambridge University but quite frankly she is just not that smart. This is not a poor reflection on her as most of us are just not that smart either. But if you have ever seen a pub in Cambridge empty of it’s student clientele on a Friday night at closing, being smart is relative and not in a physics sense.

Pamela is passionate about her rowing and enjoys hours on the river at off times, and in silence. She likes the fight with her body and the quiet of the water; but mostly she enjoys that she can get away from people – which is Pamela’s secret – she is basically an antisocial woman. It is obvious if you get to know her, but she makes sure that people don’t get to know her. She likes her privacy and is frustrated with the way that modern society seems to want to share everything.

Pamela grew up in a large family, sharing everything including private space, so she is thrilled to have a rented room that she doesn’t have to share with anyone. Nobody is invited to visit her at home, including her family and her landlady is very happy to have such a quiet and retiring girl for a lodger. She cooks for herself and keeps her space immaculate, pristine. When the police arrive to look for clues as to why she died, they find it hard to believe that anyone lived in the room. It resembles a showroom in a magazine.

Her parents disapproved of her moving out. They were overjoyed to have six kids and thought Pamela and her two sisters were close because they shared a room. They could not understand the need for privacy.

Pamela first worked for a car sales company in the accounts office and was meticulous with the paperwork but the salesmen were flabbergasted that she didn’t respond to their flirting and innuendos – ever. They decided, in their arrogance, that she must be a lesbian. It was easier for them to believe that than consider that Pamela had not found them attractive. In truth, Pamela had set her sights on something better. She had decided that if her A level results had fallen short of the requirements for Cambridge, she would find a man who’s results had been enough. She had found him. Unfortunately someone had married him first, but it had not mattered to Pamela and it certainly hadn’t mattered to him. He was a bit of a geek and had married Sandra because she had become pregnant after a three-month relationship, and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The stress of unwanted motherhood and managing on part time income had proved stressful for Sandra and she had basically become a royal bitch. So Stuart had been flattered and relieved to find an attractive and no-nonsense girl like Pamela was interested in him.

Pamela had only stayed in accounts for six months. She had been bored after about six days but leaving would have looked bad on her CV, so she stuck it out until the library job came up. She had been thrilled to work in the college library although the students were a snobby lot who treated her like a servant. She loved the old architecture and the old books and manuscripts which she hoped one day to be allowed to touch. Mrs Beamish, her supervisor was strict but appreciated Pamela’s sense of orderliness and had taken her under her wing to show her things she might otherwise had been excluded from.
It was at the library that she had met Stuart.

She had not been brought up with pets. The house was full of children and there simply was not room. So Pamela grew up with a fear of dogs. She could cope with cats up to a point, but not the ones that sensed her discomfort and insisted on curling their way onto her lap for a knead. But dogs made her shake.

Her body was found on the tow path by the Cam and her camel jacket was covered in dog hair, determined to be from a Golden Retriever or similar dog.

Pamela was not dramatic enough to have made enemies but she was disliked by a boy at the library who had been passed over by Mrs. Beamish.

Her sister, Alice, was jealous of Pamela’s independence and resented that she still had to chip in with household chores. The chores had come to include keeping an eye on Dad’s mum – Granny Perkins, who had recently been fitted into the house.
Granny Perkins was a bit batty. Everyone knew it but nobody mentioned it because it made Dad uncomfortable. And if Dad got embarrassed he got drunk and if Dad got drunk – they didn’t talk about that. But Gran was a welcome addition to the household. She had been married twice and when the second husband died she had sold up and brought the not inconsiderable wealth to her son’s life. She allowed him to manage her monies which she would not have done had she been in top mental condition but her battiness was really a godsend and most of the family were pleased to reap the benefits.

Unfortunately, Alice had got on the wrong side of her parents and was considered the black sheep. She had a tatty reputation in the community due to an incident with one of the neighbours sons and she had trouble finding work. She didn’t really want to work so that wasn’t a problem for Alice except that she couldn’t leave home. It was bearable when she had both her sisters there because she could bully Pamela and Rachel into doing most of the chores, but once Pamela had gone she was the oldest girl. Their mother was a bit of a hippy but she had retained a traditional outlook on women’s roles in the family; so Alice had been put in charge of Gran. That freed up Mum to get on with… Well, not much, but it did free her up a lot. With the extra cash, she could always shop if she got bored. And she had developed a taste for pina coladas which was keeping her in good spirits.

By

Knitting

The things on the table were like a still life, in sharp relief. The tray was round and had a raised braided border of wicker. A crocheted doily filled its base and gave a patterned softness to the background. It was all very cosy, except that a bloody penknife had trailed a bright red smear across the craft-work and a drop of blood was dribbling down the side of the bone china milk jug. Steam came out of the cup in a swirl and the knife pointed sharply at the small side plate and its carefully-placed digestive biscuits.
I saw it all from the window, and through thick wavy glass it looked like a dream. It could also have been someone’s nightmare. It was about to become mine.
I don’t know why I knocked on the door. I could see that it was was partly open. Its bright yellow paint must have been nearly a half-inch thick. I imagined someone painting it the same colour year after year. It had been this bright yellow for all my life anyway. There was, of course, no reply; so I pushed the door open and called out for Mrs Jenson. Her cat would normally have launched itself from the dark interior at this point and either wound its sinuous way through the umbrellas to circle my feet, or hissed and rushed past, almost knocking me over, but never quite managing. I knew the cat’s name but it eluded me and my mind focused on that instead of what I worried that I might find inside. There were no sounds from the place. Mrs Jenson usually had her TV on and playing something too loud as she busied herself around the place and ignored it. Now the sound of traffic on the main road was a background to the artificial stillness.
I expected something gooey when I walked through to the sitting room, but she was sitting in her chair, upright as ever and holding her knitting up to her face, as if she might have dropped a stitch. The maroon knitting trailed down and pooled on her lap, covering most of her floral wrap-over dress. She wore them all the time but this one would be her last. Most of the knitting had been soaked by the gashes in her chest and her watery eyes stared out from the thick lenses of her glasses unblinking. Mrs. Jenson was most definitely dead.

Remembering the sight of her now I am surprised by how I reacted. I told her off, and my hand went to my own body as if to defend myself from the same sort of injury. I had no thought that someone might still be in the cottage and, fortunate for me, nobody was. Then I looked quickly to her tea tray so carefully laid and on the side table, ready for sipping, and a biscuit there in the saucer for dunking. The steam from the tea had gone when I looked but it must have been still fresh. I felt the pot and that was my downfall. If I had just kept my hands and fingerprints to myself I could have walked away. But I did something illogical in touching that pot and I was asked about those few seconds over and over again until the memory was scorched into my head to be relived for weeks after in ever more macabre combinations and scenarios.

By

Sonya

It was definitely Sonya. I should have looked away in horror but something basic drew me to stare at her. I recognised the winter coat she had worn to the office that morning. From where I stood I had to lean forward and look down but it was clearly her. Her handbag, old-fashioned with it’s snap clasp in bright unconvincing brass was a dead giveaway. I had no idea that her hair was so long. She always wore it in a tight bun, pinned to oblivion against her veiny skull. But it was actually quite beautiful; the way it spread out now from her wrinkled forehead and lay like cloth in the clear water. She must have been floating just below the surface because she moved slowly with the eddies of the current. Apparently, she had got hooked on something because she stayed right there below me as all the day streamed under the arch below the old stone bridge.

If it had been the week before, all the debris from the floods would have obscured her. I remembered seeing bits of rubbish and branches pass under me when I went to see how high the floodwater had come. It was a murky flow then. But the landscape had settled down and the river had purged itself of the mud and flotsam, and the sun reflected off Sonya’s handbag as I was stunned into silence and stillness.

By

The runner and the berry juice

She was running on a trail when she found a large patch of blood on a part of the path. The blood is mixed with berries and she is initially unsure if it is blood or squashed berry juice. In her heart she knows it is blood and on her return trip, still pacing herself to the music in her headphones, she pulls out the ear buds and looks more closely.

Off in the grass, on the verge, is another bright red patch, smaller than the first but the same unnatural colour that had caught her eye on the way out. It had been very early in the morning and her breath was smokey in the cold air. More natural reds and oranges of fallen maple leaves and straw brown in needles have washed into the edge of the path from rain the night before; but this bright red trail leads into the trees and shows in the green of the remaining grass as though the sun was highlighting it. She is tempted to ignore it. It had been easy to ignore on the way out and now she feels chilled. It could be an injured raccoon or other animal, but the grass is undisturbed.
She follows the trail and down the back in more pine needles, the amount of blood seems to grow until there is a puddle, and then a man’s body. He is lying on his side with his right hand holding his stomach and blood covers his fingers, drying and no longer flowing. His face is contorted in pain and his eyes are partly open, glinting in the sun coming through the half-leaved branches. The faint beat on her headphones seems to intrude into the silence of the forest as they dangle from her neck. She bends over him and seeing that he is obviously dead, quickly turns away and clutches her own stomach as she lurches to one side, narrowly avoiding vomiting on the poor body.
Finally she stands up and fumbles with the cell phone in her jeans pocket. Her hands are not working to order, but she manages to phone for the police. It seems sad to say that she doesn’t think she needs an ambulance but the emergency operator must have had these calls before because they are calm at the other end of the scale where she is verging on hysterical. When she is asked to describe where she is, she looks around frantically for something to describe where she is.

It seems like years before the police arrive, but it is really only a few minutes. The young officer seems as shaken by the scene as she is and fusses with details that seem irrelevant to her. She is becoming impatient with his questions because all she wants to do is run away and pretend she hadn’t stopped.
Yes, she is aware that she might have thrown up a bagel and cream cheese on an important area of the crime scene.
No, she can’t give him a more accurate time when she first walked past.
No, she didn’t see anyone in the area.
No, she definitely didn’t touch the body. It had been obvious that he wasn’t alive and she had never seen a dead person before. And so much blood.

Her stomach lurched and rose again and she turned away. The officer also looked a bit under the weather.

More officers arrived with their flashing lights, blue on their vehicles. It seemed to fill the woods as they pulled off the road and got as close as they could among the trees. A woman police officer wrapped a blanket over her shoulders and walked her away from the scene a little to sit on a fallen tree. She notices the exchange of looks between the two but has lost the ability to speak. She feels so cold and lightheaded. She had dressed for a jog and was now wishing she had a warm jacket. The blanket smells new and is scratchy and not as comforting as her own jacket would be.

There is no mention of the body in the woods in the newspaper the next day and the police arrive at her house early to tell her that she is not to discuss this with anyone. They repeat this order in different phrases as though she was a dog needing a lot of training and reinforcement. She almost expects to get a biscuit when she agrees to comply. She doesn’t want to ask the detective with the unkempt greasy hair and greying bristly chin why it is so secret, but she would have liked to. The uniform police officers in the woods had been much more reassuring, but in the back of her mind she wonders if she is a suspect. They took her statement but it seemed to be more a matter of routine than for information. It was as though they has known the answer to the who and why of the death before she had even arrived on the scene. Now she was an inconvenience they needed to cover up.. to silence.

Who had she told about it?
Nobody, because she had gone mute and when they had taken her home she had downed the best part of a bottle of vodka and slept on the couch. The hangover that morning had not made dealing with the detective any easier and it had not helped her queasy stomach. But at least when she was hammered she had stopped seeing the blood. There had been so much blood!

By

Reading Characters

.    He hates it if people call him “Stu”. It makes him flinch inside for some reason that he can’t really explain.
Stuart is clever, a bit too clever perhaps. At 22 he can’t figure out how to make it an asset. He is attracted to clever girls but they don’t seem to notice a thing about him. He takes pride in his well-cut suits and neatly ironed shirts, and is very particular about hygiene – his own and that of anyone else he comes into contact with. Most Saturdays, his schedule begins with the barbers. Leaving, he smiles to himself with smug satisfaction and adjusts his jacket lapels by the reflection in the nearest shop window.
.    The sharpness of the wind that had seemed to blow up the High Street all winter was almost gone. “Time to get out the summer wardrobe.” He nods to himself and then glances around to see that nobody had noticed. They had not. A little heat and colour rise in his round cheeks, and his head drops down a little onto his shoulders as they sag. Time to go home and have a restorative cup of tea with Mother.

Start Writing Fiction – Open University (FutureLearn)

By

Fact and Fiction

.     Snow fell and drifted into April. It would have been pretty except for the dark stain that appeared when I bent to turn the last shovelful from the path. My back muscles whined. The floral shirtsleeve uncovered was pink, and so was the snow that had hidden it overnight.
.     I had not raked the grass before bad weather had arrived. I didn’t miss the shriveled evidence of my laziness. It was Winter and my house appeared as well-tended as all of my neighbours. I was unready to stand out from the crowd again, so I recovered the stain and dragged my shovel back where I belonged.

(Paragraph 1: 3 facts, 1 fiction. Paragraph 2: 1 fact, 3 fiction  50-100 words each)

By

Evil Brew

“No sipping, now. This is the good stuff.”
There was a gleam in the old man’s eye that approached evil and gathered a fan of deep lines to the sides of his face. He must have been smiling this evil smile for years to get such a deep set of wrinkles. These thoughts distracted me, but not nearly enough. I looked in horror at the beautiful cut glass tumbler in front of me. My fight or flight instinct had kicked in to no avail. I hate whiskey!
He and his buddy, Jose, leaned forward on their chairs, watching me as though they were at a dog fight. They must have been able to smell the fear wafting off me.
I tried not to shake as my fingers gripped the glass they had set down so carefully. The golden liquid was very still, apart from a small ripple. The shaking leg of one of the men was making the floor tremble, or I was about to lose my nerve. I threw some of the nasty brew across my tongue and swallowed as fast as I dared. The plan was to avoid the taste buds, the plan was not foolproof. My eyes teared up right off the bat, but I stayed very still and hoped I wouldn’t have to breathe again soon. The whiskey tore at the soft tissues of my throat like fire and I might have made a small whimpering sound. It might have just been in my mind because Jose and Henry didn’t move a muscle. It was as though time had frozen. I was thankful for being in reasonably good shape, and almost forgave my brother for all the times he had dunked me at the river. I could see admiration in their eyes for the length of time I was able to hold my breath. Even that was reaching my limit. I let the breath out in a splutter and I think maybe a sob. I was just pleased I hadn’t vomited.
The old devils sat back and smiled. I guessed I had passed the test.
“Right then.” I said very quietly. “Time to hear the real story.” They nodded. I could throw up later.

By

Writing Challenge ~ 2

Tell about a character who lost something important to him/her.

 “I really need the children’s paperwork back!” She was distraught on the phone and tried to be calm, knowing it wouldn’t happen. “He took everything. All their records are in those files, and all the mementos I have kept.”

“What sort of things are we talking about here?”

Her attorney sounded patient and unconcerned. That was the most infuriating part of this all of a sudden. She needed at least to sound rational. “Well, some birthday cards and photos… and some things they made in school. The school reports are in there and their official certificates.”

“I see. I know it is inconvenient, but all the certificates and reports can be replaced very easily… So, it’s the cards and photos really.”

She felt the panic and frustration drain away and tears threatening to replace them. At least he couldn’t see her crying. “You know. Forget it. I am just overreacting… It’s fine. I can get new copies, like you said… We will just have to make new memories.”

 

By

Writing Challenge ~ 1

Select a book at random in the room. Find a novel or short story, copy down the last sentence and use this line as the first line of your new story.

As long as there are dogs and as long as there are people fit to walk with them, they will remember you.*
I am not sure how I ended up with this job. I seem to remember that I had hoped to amount to more than fame for being a really good walker of dogs. But as we left the lane and the village behind us, I glanced down. The look in Sonny’s soft brown eyes was of pure love. Perhaps my life was not so bad. He trotted effortlessly on a slack leash, sniffing the air. His leathery black nose was a-quiver, and he was holding his feathered tail high, as though we were stepping into show ring instead of a muddy field. I flipped up the flap and reached into my jacket pocket. I felt the contagion of his excitement. The tennis ball was ready, and so was Sonny. I knew I was ready too. He looked up to my face briefly and I swear he smiled as his gaze dropped to rest on the bulge of my hand in my pocket, and the familiar shape of the ball.

* Watchers by Dean Koontz

By

Stan the Taxidermist Monk

We stood in a shaft of light through which small flecks of dust and goodness-knows-what fell… probably small flakes of discarded skin. Light was further thrown off by the grubby fingerprint-smeared glass that diffused it.

“Look!” She said, holding up the shrivelled body of a fly with her tweezers. “Can’t you just tell that Stan killed it; just from the look on its face?”

“Who is Stan?” I replied, knowing very well who she was alluding to.

The monk was a well-known taxidermist, but even he would surely not stoop to the stuffing of a dried fly? And why would he leave the carcass out to dry on such an exposed windowsill. It betrayed a nonchalance that Stan definitely did not possess. It could have been blown off its rack and hoovered up without a second’s thought. Or worse perhaps, a competitor-taxidermist could have crept in and up to the windowsill late on the night of a full moon. He would have spied the prepared beast and added it to his exquisite cache of naturally occurring corpses – ones he might have gathered from the lane or even found among the weeds and long blades of dry grass in the front lawn. It just didn’t add up…

“I don’t think it was Stan.”

“I thought you didn’t know who Stan was.”

She was all over my little slip up. Now I would have to give away all the secrets. I was not a good person to have secrets. I was even worse at keeping them for more than an instant. They preyed on my mind day in and day out and they grew to such epic proportions that nobody could have been asked to harbour them. But, even the most practiced secret-keeper would have spilled their guts when faced with her Inquisitorial stare. I paled and stepped back quickly.

“Oh. Did I really say that? I meant ‘Which Stan?’ I know two Stans you see…“

We both knew that was unlikely. Who in their right mind names a child ‘Stanley’ in these times? There was a time when the name might have had some panache. But that day had gone, along with impossible crinolines, pencil-thin moustaches and the appellation ‘Mistress’. My goose was cooked!
This was a true disaster. I am a vegetarian. I shouldn’t be talking about cooked geese. And who has geese any more for that matter?