I will be adding to this section from time to time so please call back to see if there is something new.
First offering! One of my tiny 'Bedtime Stories for Sleepy Readers'.
WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CHECK ALL BAGS
Betty nodded at the voluminous bag her customer was holding and asked: "May I check your bag please?"
Most people going through the check out would willingly agree to a check. She would look inside, smile her thanks and the incident would be over. But once in a while there would be someone who would refuse. This woman hesitated, clutched the top of the satchel and said: "Do you have to? There's nothing but junk in there. Really."
Betty groaned inside. She hated these awkward situations. Was she going to have to call the supervisior? She said: "I'm sorry, I still have to look. It's store policy."
With a sigh the woman nodded and opened the top of the bag. Betty looked in.
She found herself falling into a blackness at first and then onto a smooth floor beneath a high, pale ceiling. It was like a vast hall, the walls of which seemed to go on forever. All around her, stretching as far as she could see were piles of objects- like hills dotting the landscape. Closest to her was a pile of shopping trolleys- not the odd one or two such as decorated the carpark, but a great hill of them, of all types, from the oldest, heaviest models, now bent and rusted, to some of the newest plastic jobs. So this was where old shopping trolleys got to she thought.
The pile beside it was nothing but shoes. Next to that was a pile of umbrellas in every colour and size. Further along was a mountain of old cars. Everywhere she looked there were piles of discarded objects- everything from ballpoint pen caps and bottle caps to bent tv antennas, battle scarred tanks, broken guns, and even something that looked like a missile with with a fin missing.
There was a snapping sound. Suddenly she was back behind her register and the woman was smiling at her over a closed bag.
"See, love," she said, "nothing but junk."
* * *end* * *
That wasn't much so here's another, slightly longer one:
THE MOUSE PLAGUE OF KIDD ROCK
There had been plagues of mice before in Kidd Rock, a small town in the wheat belt. The people accepted them as a fact of farming life. When the weather had been kind and the crop had been a bumper one, then there was a good chance the mouse population would be bumper too. There was not a family in town who did not have a story to tell of previous plagues, and of Uncle Fred or Tom or Grandpa, who had killed so many mice in an hour.
In the foyer of the Council Chambers were a series of faded photographs of men with guns standing like proud hunters by the corporate body of their kill. In one photo the mountain of mice was so high it reached to the head of a small boy standing beside it. Norma Kern often saw the photos on her way to and from the town library.
This plague did not have the feel of normal plague. It was not the Hamlin Town type of rumbling which grew to a grumbling, but a sudden, overnight event. One day there was the usual number of rodents about the place- the odd, scuttling sighting, the occasional chewed bag up the back of a cupboard, the once in a while small carcass dragged in by one or the other of her cats, then suddenly, without warning- MICE- a flood, a tumult, a catastrophe of mice.
They were there in their tens, their hundreds of thousands; mice in the houses and sheds, in the gardens and shops and paddocks, mice like a flow of furry lava from an invisible volcanic vent.
No-one could say what had caused such an upsurge in their numbers and no-one could remember anything like it before.
Traps, cats and poison didn't make a dent in the tide. A pest exterminator from the city was called in. His methods were no more successful than the old ways and he went away shaking his head saying it was inexplicable. Norma had to agree with him that there was something definitely not very explicable at work here, and as a good white witch she felt she ought to do something about it.
With Frou Frou the long haired white of fastidious ways curled on her lap and Mugwump, the solid grey kitten with more than a touch of hippo about him trying to climb onto her head, she laid out her Tarot cards. She had just set them out in her favourite spread when another of her cats jumped into the middle of it all, rearranging the Celtic cross into something that looked more like clock patience. "Batterpaws!"
Norma was surprised. She was a young cat, but old enough to know she was not allowed on tables. She scolded her gently as she lifted her from the middle of the spread. More than any of the other cats Batterpaws had been disturbed by the mouse plague. Ever since it started she'd been rubbing round Norma's legs, sometimes wailing in a pitiful tone, sometimes plainly demanding that her human DO something about this invasion of her territory by these small, furry freeloaders.
Norma stroked her silky fur, rubbed her head and told her to stop being a pest and to find somewhere to curl up. She was a handsome cat, ostensibly a tortoiseshell but with so little ginger in her fur that she was virtually a black cat with two creamy front paws. With another head butt against the woman's legs the cat scampered to the back door and stood there meowing. Norma sighed. "No you don't. I know what you want... out for five minutes then you'll be back at the door yelling to be let in." It had been the same routine for the last few days and while she normally had tremendous patience with animals, she was growing weary of this game that Batterpaws seemed determined to play. Ignoring the heart rending cries, she went back to the cards.
The cards were like the chapters in a book; big and bold and only hinting at the subtleties that lay beyond; it was up to her to open her senses to the forces at work to discover the rest of the story. What she sensed was a puzzle... something not quite like anything she had ever experienced before. There was magic involved, that was certain... a curse perhaps. Magic and animals, and something young, innocent and yet slightly wicked. A mischievous child cursing the town with a plague of mice?
Norma shook her head, not believing the answers her talents were dredging out of the ether. Telling her imagination to settle down, she brought her attention back to bear on the matter and once again a feeling of something young, innocent and slightly wicked filled her mind. All right, she conceded, a mischievous child... perhaps not really hell bent on cursing the town... but perhaps accidentally causing trouble by playing with magic beyond her control.
A rosy feeling of success and satisfaction blossomed in Norma's breast as she knew she had hit upon a truth. A child, playing with magic, calling up an accidental curse. Possible... yes, quite possible. Where had the magic come from? Well, that was no great mystery; there was genuine magic all round if you knew where to look. Only the other week in the town library she'd picked up a cheap paperback novel and been idly flipping through it when part of a chant caught her eye.
Opening up the page she'd found herself horrified to see a real, and powerful spell for summoning up a thought form. An adult might read the book and pass on by, thinking the spell to be a bit of writer's licence, but a child might take it at its word and try it.... and then find herself having to cope with a wilful and violent demon.
There was also the possibility a child might have found a book of magic left from an earlier age. Farm people never threw away anything... you never knew when it might come in handy... they had trunks of old bits and pieces stored in sheds and back rooms. What some of them might contain? Along with the old photos, medals, uniforms and wedding dresses there might be a real spell book or two. Spell books did have a habit of going walkabout on a regular basis. Norma looked round the room in an idle fashion. One of her own had been missing for some weeks now.
Oh, not that she imagined a neighbourhood child had taken it and was now using it to terrorise the town with mice; her spells were of the mild, wish fulfilment variety. And the book wasn't missing... it was just mislaid somewhere in the mess. She looked round again, frowned to realise the place could really stand a bit of cleaning and tidying, then put it out of her mind and got back to the more important job of trying to determine who was responsible for the town's plight.
Her thinking was interrupted by an imperious meow at the back door. That was Sprite, a magnificent black tom who had wandered into her life a month or so ago and was living in blissful ignorance of a forthcoming trip to the vet. When she let him in, Batterpaws dashed out as if the devil were after her.
The coming and going of cats at the back door alerted the Withabit twins to the fact that it might be tea time. Startling mice, which scuttled away in all directions, and which they ignored, they slid their sleek black and white bodies from a cosy bed beneath a bush, stretched and sauntered across to where their human was standing behind the flyscreen. Norma smiled as she looked down at them.
What a pair. Just out of kittenhood and as cheeky a pair of rascals as she'd ever raised, the Withabits were brother and sister from the same litter, she a silky white with a bit of black and he a glossy black with a bit of white, each in the same places on head, ears and paws, making them look like a photograph and negative. Her grin broadened as she remembered the bewildered look on a friend's face when she had tried to explain to her why she had two cats both with the same name.
Her friend had a beautiful shaded silver longhair named Grandway Mountain Mist the Third with pedigree and prizes to its credit and was secretly scornful of Norma's band of moggies with their odd names. Norma knew, and understood and could only feel sorry that her friend knew nothing of the joy of the naming of cats. But.... this wasn't solving the problem of the mice.
She returned to the cards, sat and stared at them for a while, but soon realised they were not going to tell her anything more. With reverence she put them away and then considered what to do next. She needed time to think, time to let the ideas swim about in her head. A bit of gardening perhaps. It would be nice in the sun, it would give her some thinking time and the garden by the path really did need attention.
She almost tripped over Batterpaws, sitting on the back step.
"You'll get squashed one day if you keep doing that," she warned holding the door open for the little cat. Batterpaws looked indoors, looked up at her human and then dashed out into the garden. Norma sighed. Mad cat. She had to do something about these mice if only to get Batterpaws back to normal.
Intent on collecting the wheelbarrow, and some gardening tools she almost tripped over the cat again in the doorway of the shed.
"What is it with you and doors?" she asked in exasperation. Only a week or so ago she'd almost squashed this very cat in this very door when she dashed between her feet. Muttering warnings about the fate of cats who persisted in being so silly, she entered the shed and looked about.
Batterpaws leapt up onto the potting table with a loud meow. Norma looked and there, amid the pots and potting mix, was a quarto sized notebook. It lay open on the table, its pages patterned with grubby paw prints.
"My spell book." She remembered then, that she'd been carrying it with her when she'd come in here a few weeks ago. She'd put it down on the table while she re-potted a favourite fern, then left it there when she went into the garden. She must have forgotten it when she closed the shed for the evening. She hadn't been back to the shed since, which of course explained why she hadn't been able to find the book anywhere in the house.
But why was it open? She hadn't left it open. Had children been in here, looking through it. Or....? Norma looked at the paw prints, and at the worried expression on her cat's face and couldn't help but wonder. "Batterpaws... you didn't? You couldn't." The cat gazed at her with serious yellow eyes. "No, I'm being silly. There's no way..."
Even so, she looked at the spell on view on the open page and couldn't help but smile. To Fulfill Your Wildest Dreams, it said. A simple wish spell that could give you what you really wanted if your heart was pure enough and your mind really clear on what you desired. For most people it never worked because in spite of their protestations to the contrary most were not terribly clear about what they really wanted. But a cat... what had a purer heart or a clearer mind than a cat with its heart set on hunting? And Batterpaws just loved to catch mice.
It was impossible of course... cat's couldn't read. Even so... she turned the besmeared pages till she found the spell to undo inadvertent magic and spoke the words that would release the powers from the order to provide the town with an endless supply of mice. She did not know it, but at the very instant she finished the incantation, a hush fell over the town... a quiet such as it had not known in weeks... a complete lack of rustlings and squeaking and the patter of tiny rodent feet.
Batterpaws began to purr.
* * *end* * *
I can't tell you much about the next one without giving it away.
THE FUNNY LADY AT FIFTY SEVEN
“Down the street, you know,” Stephen said across the coffee table to the couple who were two of the five guests he and his wife Carol had invited for dinner that evening. “The funny lady at fifty seven.” The other three guests were neighbours Pete and Michelle and Jim’s newly divorced sister Helene.
The dinner over by some hours, they were now sitting about in the living room having final drinks and conversation to finish the night. While Pete and Michelle engaged Helene in a conversation about the rising value of properties in their neighbourhood, Stephen talked to Jim and Rena. Carol sat nearby looking elegant in a green evening dress with her golden hair piled in shining loops on her head, having little to say till her husband mentioned one of their neighbours then she pricked up her ears and asked which neighbour he meant. He told her.
“Oh yes- the lady in fifty seven. What about her?”
“I was telling Rena and Jim about her. How she rushed to the auction and bought one of the old telephone boxes when Telecom changed over to the new grey ones. Dreadful looking thing it was.”
“Quite disreputable,” Carol agreed. “She set it up right in her front yard. We thought she only meant to leave it there till she found someone to help her carry it around the back… but it stayed and she started planting things around it. That’s when we knew she meant it as a permanent feature.”
“As if that wasn’t bad enough, she painted it blue and stuck a light on top.”
“What on earth for?” Rena asked with a giggle, swinging her long black hair over her shoulder. She was not totally enthralled by this neighbourhood gossip but at least it was a change from the previous subject of the couple’s social escapades and acquaintances.
“Well that’s what’s so funny about the whole thing you see. We asked her and she told us some long involved story about her doctor.”
“Her doctor?” Jim queried through a mouthful of some strange alcoholic concoction that Stephen had mixed and insisted he try, swearing he would ‘love it'. He was drinking it because he didn’t want to appear unsophisticated but the truth was he would just as soon have had a beer. He hoped the current topic of conversation- which looked like being the most lively of the evening- would cause enough distraction to allow him to put the glass aside and conveniently forget it.
“Her doctor,” Stephen repeated with emphasis.
“Something like that, “ Carol said, lifting her flawless shoulders in a shrug. “It was really too confusing to make much sense of it. I believe her doctor wanted her to take a holiday…”
“Or was it that her doctor wanted to take her on holiday?” Stephen suggested with a snigger. Hearing the snide laughter and suspecting it might have been caused by a juicy bit of gossip worth hearing, Michelle abandoned the conversation about house values with Helene and looked toward Stephen to ask:
“What are we talking about?” She paused with her glass raised and her hand positioned so that the light would catch on her new diamond bracelet.
“The funny lady at fifty seven.”
“That one. What a strange woman. Just two doors down from us you know.”
“Keeps a damned yapping dog,” commented Michelle’s husband Pete sourly as he looked into his empty glass. Damn. He needed something to wash away the taste of the recent meal. He hadn’t liked to say anything but he suspected that something had gone wrong with the sauce. He knew that native Australian foods were haute cuisine at the moment and he was willing to try anything once but he thought that in the future he might draw the line at bug tails in billygoat plum sauce. Somewhere in his innards at that moment the billy goats and bugs were warring with the booze.
Helene turned to face Stephen to indicate that she too had an interest in the topic under discussion. Warmed by an after dinner glass or two of wine as well as the quantity he’d consumed with the meal, Stephen needed no persuading to get him to go on talking about their strange neighbour down the street. “The next thing we knew there were two of them,” he said. “Two damned blue telephone boxes smack in the middle of her front garden- both with lights on top. It started to look as if she was breeding them.”
“Completely spoiled the look of the neighbourhood. That on top of the ridiculous dog letter box she put up. Hideous thing. It looks more like a robot than a dog,” Michelle added. “We’d been after Bob… the alderman, you know… to get her to remove it. She refused and it was soon after that she got the phone box. We tried to get him to force her to get rid of that too. He said he’d had a talk to her and she’d seen reason… but what happens? She only goes and imports another one.”
As Michelle went off into a screech of laughter Pete commented that it was something of a mystery as to how the woman had managed to get the second phone box into the garden without alerting half the neighbourhood. ”There was an enormous hullabaloo the day the first one was delivered. Kids all over the show, dogs barking, cars backed up both sides of her place, crane all over the lawns and footpaths… real mess. But the second one just appeared one morning. I drive that way to work every day. It wasn’t there the night before… I swear.”
Stephen took over the conversation. “He’s right. I run every night and morning and I can vouch for the fact that it wasn’t there one night but it was there the next morning. But listen, I’ve got to tell you this. I actually talked to her that day- the day the second box arrived. She was out in her front yard that evening as I jogged past. ‘I see you’ve got another one.’ I said. I expected her to be embarrassed or even to tell me to mind my own business- she’s got a bit of a reputation for speaking her mind- but she waved me over to the fence. I went over, not knowing what to expect and suddenly she’s gushing at me as if I was an old friend. ‘It’s wonderful’ she said. ‘He’s here. He’s actually here.’. And then she went on to tell me more about that damned doctor of hers. “ He grinned as his audience sat back with cackles of delight.
“That doctor…” Michelle gasped through her mirth. “Did you ask her to tell you something about him? What is he… some specialist hot shot or something?”
“I asked her once,” Carol said. “God what an odd conversation that turned into. I asked who he was because I thought he might be someone I’d met. I told her I met a good number of doctors in my work. So she said, yes, he was a doctor. Doctor who? I asked. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Doctor Who’. Yes but what’s his name I asked. She said ‘We just call him the Doctor.’”
“I asked her too,” Stephen said. “I got the same sort of nonsense. She wouldn’t tell me his name… just kept rabbiting on about how he was looking for a new companion and he had invited her along and so on. And then, I swear I’ve no idea when the conversation switched channels but suddenly we were talking about her travelling to other planets… in a space ship. I just nodded for a bit till suddenly it dawned on me… she was talking about the bloody telephone box. She honestly thought she was going to go planet hopping in the thing.” He grinned as the others laughed. The laughter mounted as he added other bits he recalled from the conversation. “Only it wasn’t really a telephone box... it was an English police box… and it could travel anywhere in the universe… even to other times and it was really big inside…big enough to keep really large pieces of machinery and furniture in its rooms… only she had never been able to understand how the doctor got them through the door. She said she was putting all her affairs in order because she was going to leave in it… right away… that night.”
Stephen had to stop speaking because not only had his voice failed due to a spasm in his diaphragm, but he could not make himself heard over Pete’s hysterical hooting.
Picking up his glass of wine he took a mouthful, swallowed and let the full flavoured liquor run its tentacles of warmth around his stomach untying all the knots in his mid section muscles. By the time it had done its work the group had fallen silent.
“So what’s she up to these days?” Helene asked after a while, amused by the antics of the crazy lady and wondering if anyone had any more stories about her. A further silence followed, one that the four neighbours seemed reluctant to break.
“Nothing actually,” Stephen said at last. “She sort of… you know… disappeared. About the same time as the second telephone box. “ He shrugged. “We haven’t seen her since.”