The Final Days

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The sun was shining the day he decided to do it.

It had been a very long time coming, a very long time indeed, but he was all the better for that fact. There had been nights at school learning about the basics, about what to use, what was best, and what would work the fastest.

Even when that was complete, he still had to find the right people, still had to find the money to pay the right people. The only consistent factor in all of this – the life-force which had driven a road right through the middle of his life and his heart – was his hatred of them. Of all of them.

He had tried to fit in. He had tired of trying to fit in. At school, he was the kid who never got invited to parties. He threw his own but no one ever came.

He’d cried and fought within himself to try make sense of it all. What was wrong with him? Was he too easy to please? Probably – that was what they saw as a weakness. Them. Those who laughed at him, pushed his head down toilets and made him pull the flush himself.

Sometimes, he would catch the eye of one of the perpetrators and he could see the fear scratched across it. Rather you than me – it said. Rather you take the beating than they found out about me.
Bullying was easy. If it wasn’t, then it wouldn’t be so popular. He had more scars than he could carry but still he got up each day, and still he walked the road.

Selfishness was a virus now. He saw it everywhere. Self-obsessed little creatures in the middle of the city. Talking too loud – always talking too loud on their phones. People who treated staff in cafés and restaurants as if they were dirt. Well, he was doing it for them as well.

Money was always given to the wrong people. There were more shallow people with money than without. Money disguised their shallowness, or rather it brought all the little shits together.
It wasn’t jealously on his part – he had never had any money but he knew that he would have dealt with it much better than the ones who flashed it in his face.

Most of his life he had believed in a God, it’s what had stopped him from being a serial killer, but last year – last year when his best friend had spent the night with her boyfriend at his house. Well that was the night of the great storm – the night that the chimney at her boyfriend’s house had fallen through the roof. Just as her boyfriend had gone to the bathroom and left her in bed – right in the path of the falling chimney. That’s when he had stopped believing and now he was free to do what he wanted. And he was going to. And he was doing it for his dead best friend, too.

They should have been nicer, all of them. They shouldn’t have been so greedy. Greed was what would destroy the world in the end. The apes loved the smell of money.

He had chosen the capital city because that was where there would be the most impact. He had worked and saved for five years to get the cash to buy what he needed.

Now he was ready.

He had tried the virus on little pieces of paper. It had worked on the animal that lived next door. It was dead within five minutes.  The method of transport was easy – he had collected a few hundred copies of the free evening paper and had impregnated them with the virus. He left two copies on each train, bus and underground carriage he visited. Most of them never took the paper home, they were left where they had been read. Someone else would pick up the copy and read it – each of them condemned by their action.

By morning the epidemic would have begun.
Karma was having its day. They should have been nicer.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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How Simon Got His Happiness Back

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Simon was a simple lad with no grudges against the world. He was a happy boy who only wanted to the best for his friends and family.

One night when Simon went to his bed, he decided to look at his phone and, for no reason, on Social Media he wrote the words ‘Black Is Black and White is White’ and he meant it in the simplest of terms; sometimes things in life are just black and white.

Simon went to sleep.

In the morning, there were 173 comments.

Some called him racist, and others admired his non-immigrant stance. Some said they knew where he lived and would come to fix him.

One lad from the same school as Simon, said that to say that Black is Black and White was White was a beautiful minimalist statement and would have made Sakhimoto – the Japanese minimalist very proud.

One woman wrote that to say Black is Black and White is White is just the kind of evil thing that Margaret Thatcher promoted in the 1980s and the woman wanted the world of Social Media to know how savvy she was in all things political. Of course, she wrote the words from one of her big houses in a big town, where she could see the poor and the needy lying in the streets. She took another sip of her champagne.

One old hippy said that Black is Black and White is White is a song that Dylan never released but he had heard it sung by Dylan at a town hall in Northern England in the 1960s. The Hippy said the Dylan deserved his Nobel Laureate and the man from the same school said that Sakhimoto – the Japanese minimalist deserved it more than him.

Some of the ‘Ignored’, all left comments saying that no one had ever listened to them before, and that the phrase Black Is Black and White is White is what they had been trying to tell the world. They hadn’t realised that as a group that they were ‘disenfranchised’ – whatever that meant – but it sounded serious and they weren’t going to stop fighting until they were franchised again.

One film director, who had a lot of money and who worked with a scriptwriter who lived in a big house in a warm foreign land, said he was going to make a film about the angst and hopelessness of Simon’s call to arms. He was going to call it, ‘I, Simon’.

One old lady who said that she spoke for God – saying that God hated that kind of talk about Black and White and that was why He had caused the earthquakes and famine, in order to show how angry he was.

One good friend of Simon’s surprised him when he said that Simon was correct, and that Black is Black and White is White should be painted on the White Cliffs of Dover. Simon realised that he had never really known his friend at all.

That night, Simon shut down his Social Media account.

Simon is happy, now.

Bobby Stevenson 2017

 

The Woman Who Died Among The Chickens

The way I was told it – was that she died in among the chickens.

I mean that’s what they said. Apparently, her hair had been matted with chicken crap – I kid you not. She had raised these little critters from the egg and this was the way they wished her a goodbye.

In the end, it was only the chickens and my Aunt Claudia who did say a fond farewell to her. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the burial, even although she was my grandma. My ma and pa, and my twin sisters all stayed away from her funeral.

I was six years of age when she died in among her animals – that must have been about late ’49. My grandma had celebrated her 80th birthday that year by jiving to the big bands. She had never been so alive; she was always in the best of health, always had the biggest of grins.

Then life turned up, the way it does, to crap in her water.

It seems that some guy from a New York newspaper had come looking for her. Something to do with all those years ago in Austria. Something she hadn’t told none of us about.

You see my grandma had been a nurse all that time ago in that faraway country. When she’d come to New York City she’d tried other kinds of work, but in the end she went back to nursing. That’s where she met my grandpa, the day he checked in with a broken arm. They fell in love, got married and moved to Queens.

Yet anytime, anyone asked about the old country, she’d sigh, then smile, and then tell us all that she’d take everyone there one day. It never happened of course. Apart from my Aunt Claudia, who moved to Trenton, no one ever left NYC.

But this guy, this reporter, was real persistent like, saying that my grandma would have to tell her story, or otherwise he’d tell it the way he knew.

I remember she locked herself in the shed out in the yard on one of those days he came to call. She shouted to me that I was to tell the man that my grandma wasn’t in. And that is exactly what I did.

I said,” my grandma told me to tell you she ain’t in.”

He just shrugged his shoulders and went back to sitting in his automobile that sat outside in the street. The photo is the one he took and I kept.

She never helped him with the tale, so he printed his own version of the story. It seems that there was a woman back in Braunau am Inn, in 1889 who had trouble having a baby, and that the baby nearly died. The one who saved the child was a nurse by the name of Annette Eichrodt (my grandma’s maiden name).

Seems the life she saved was a baby boy by the name of Adolf Hitler. The way I see it, she was only doing her job.

I wasn’t allowed to go and see my grandma after that, and I guess it all got too much for her. Not long after the story was printed, she took a heart attack and died, like I say, among the chickens.

The photograph is all I got left.

 

Bobby stevenson 2017

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The Wizard of Odd

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There isn’t anything I can tell you about Abigail that you don’t already know. I mean she was you, me and everyone else who felt let down by life. There is always something, ain’t there? There’s always that fact about life where it won’t let a body breathe without asking for payment of one kind or another.

So this is the place where we run into Abigail. She had emotional bombs dropped on her so often, that she took to hiding in own fallout shelter – her own home with social network always on tap.
Now you might say to me, ‘hey, that’s a good place to hide’ – but it wasn’t. It never is.

You see, Abigail, would sit all day and all night on Face-this or Twit-that watching the world going by in huge bright colours, and all she had to compare was a sad life in little bedroom with a kitchen. Abigail couldn’t understand why the world had passed her by, and yet had stopped and coloured in everyone else’s lives.

The more she read of other lives, the more she grew dark and down. Then one morning she decided to fight back, instead of telling the truth she made up her life to be more exotic, more exciting, more colourful than it really was. Well anything was more exciting than sitting in a room and a life lit by the hue of an electronic screen.

She started to attract friends and even people she didn’t really know, and they all applauded Abigail for her wonderful and exciting life. The places (the faked places) she had been, the lovers she had seen, the dreams she had lived. Abigail had never been so popular in all her life.

And here dear folks is the problem, if you could have stood on top of the highest of all high mountains and looked down on the world, you would have seen streets, and towns, and cities all full of lonely people sitting in little rooms and lying to the world about their lives.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Greenock Story: The Glass Red Rose

There was an old road, they called it ‘the Roman road’, which led there once upon a time. The farm, like the family, used to stand proud and shiny as it looked hopefully towards the loch. There’s nothing much of it left now, just a shell that keeps the wind and rain from the lonely hill-walker. But a long, long time ago, probably before you were born, something magic happened on that farm; something truly wonderful.

I suppose I should start by telling you about Sean. He was a lad who was always looking for adventure and excitement. Yet being much younger than his brothers, he found life on the farm a little lonely and so, after his chores, he would take to the hills with his imaginary pals and become the hero of the latest book he was reading.

If I recall correctly, the storm that started all this came on a dark Saturday afternoon in April. Sean would have been eight by then but like the rest of the family he knew the hills better than the back of their own hands. He had finished up his work on the farm for the day, had got washed and was ready to set out for another adventure as The Lone Ranger.

“Just you hold your horses,” said Annie, Sean’s mother. “Your father wants to speak to you.”

Those words usually meant that the school had reported to his parents that he hadn’t turned up again. Sean normally hid his books at the bottom of Dunrod Hill (but he was particular – he only went absent on those hot, sunny days) and then he’d spend the time jumping around the rocks at the top where he’d round up the bad guys. He’d pick up his stuff at the end of the day just about the time he should have been coming home from school. So what if he couldn’t add up? He loved the freedom and hated being in class.

His father, Alex, came in to the kitchen looking worried.

“We need everyone to help. One of the sheep is lost on the hill and we need to bring it in before the storm,” he said.

Each of the family was given an area, and since Dunrod was the Lone Ranger’s domain, naturally Sean was given that hill to search.

The climb up Dunrod was steep but there was an old wall on the left side which a person could grab on to. It didn’t help that the storm was bringing in the darkness quicker than expected. The wind had picked up too and so by the time that Sean reached the summit of Dunrod, it was taking all his strength just to walk.

He searched around the top of the hill and down a couple of the gullies but there was nothing. Then Sean thought he might try the small pond in the lost valley. The sheep never usually made it that far but as the Lone Ranger, Sean had caught a couple of cowpokes rustling down that way.

As he approached the pond, he could hear the bleating of a sheep and sure enough there was the lost animal, one leg stuck in-between two rocks at the edge of the pond. The wind and rain were burning Sean’s face but he managed to crawl down to the side of the water and pull the sheep’s leg free.

Somewhere out there, the storm had torn a large part of a tree away and sent it flying in the direction of Sean. So as he tried to stand, the tree hit the back of his head and knocked him flying into the pool. Sean was out cold and face down in the pond.

The man had been standing a little distance off and waiting for his moment. He walked over to the pond and pulled Sean from the pool. He laid the boy on his side and forced every last bit of water from his lungs. Sean coughed and spluttered and eventually fell into a sleep.

When Sean came to, he was lying on his side and a blazing fire was warming his face and body. The man sat at the other side of the fire, just smiling. Sean lifted his head.

“Just take your time, you’ve had a shock,” said the man.

“Who are you?” Asked Sean.

“Just a pal, who happened to be passing.”

Sean could see the man was wearing a uniform, probably an army one but not one he’d seen before. The light from the fire caught a glass red rose pinned to the man’s lapel. He must have been in his twenties, dark hair and had a pleasant face.

“When you’re warm enough and you’re ready, I’ll take you home,” said the man.

“What happened to the sheep?” Asked Sean.

“She’s safe, outside, don’t worry.”

And the funny thing is, Sean felt safe too.

Soon they were making their way down Dunrod Hill with the man holding tightly on to the sheep.

There were two farms at the bottom of the hill, Sean’s family’s and the MacIntyre’s.

“Which one?” Asked the man and Sean led the man and the sheep over to the left farm. It was dark as they approached Sean’s home and though they both struggled, they managed to place the sheep with the rest of the flock.

“Are you coming in?” Asked Sean to the man.

“Better not, I’m already late.”

“Fair enough.”

Sean noticed the man staring in through the kitchen window.

“What’s wrong?” Asked Sean.

“Nothing, just watching your mother and father. They seem like a happy family.”

Sean opened the door to the farmhouse and turned to ask the man again to come in, but he had disappeared into the night.

Sean’s mother gave him the biggest hug then scolded him for being gone for so long.

It was the following year that Sean’s mother died and Sean and his family helped each other get through their grief. Sean went to school less and less and eventually spent all of his time helping on the farm.

One winter a huge war started, and so Sean’s brothers went off to fight in foreign lands. The war lasted for several years and so came the day when Sean was to go off to fight as well. His father was going to miss him dearly, not only on the farm but in their closeness.

The morning that Sean left for the war in a far away land, his father had packed a haversack for the boy. He put in some bread and cheese for the boy to eat on his journey. The father kissed his youngest and wished him well. Sean never saw his father’s tears as he marched down the Roman road in to the town and on to war.

Not far outside Glasgow, Sean felt a little hungry and pulled out the food his father had given him. A letter also dropped out and Sean picked it up. It read:

‘My Darling Boy, you’ll never know how proud I am of you or how much I’ll miss you. When your mother left us, you were my little soldier who helped me. Now you’re going off to fight a war. I know your mother will be watching. Before she died, she asked me to give you this on the day you left home. I won it for her at the Fair in Greenock. It was my first gift to her. I miss her and all my family. I’ll miss you. Love, your father.’

Sean slipped the little trinket on to the palm of his hand. It was a little glass red rose.

He pinned it to his lapel.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Photograph of Me

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The kid in the middle, the one hiding, was Gene, he got shot in some war, somewhere. It was the only thing he ever did that anyone was ever proud of. Gene spent most of his life hiding and blaming others.

The one on the right was Jackson. He was my best bud – I mean the kind of pal who would lay down his life for you, give you the last cent in his pocket – there ain’t too many of them who crossed my path. Jackson was the mouthy one, the one who knew what to do, the one who never stopped eating and the one who always wore his brother’s hand-me-downs.

The day this photo was taken was my fourteenth birthday – that’s me on the left – my ma had given me 50 cents to get the guys some hotdogs. I had wanted a bike but I knew, given the way things were, hotdogs were as good as it was gonna get.

My pa had gone to see a friend in a downtown store on one sunny morning and had never returned. It was like that for many of the guys on my street. I was convinced that the fathers who had disappeared all went to some town, upstate and swapped stories.

I remember being on watch at the kitchen window for months waiting on his return. Some days I would knock on doors and ask if anyone had seen my pa. Some slammed the door in my face, others kinda giggled and said that I should ask some woman or other. Seemed my pa liked to hang about with women called ‘Belle’ or ‘Busty’. Maybe if my ma had changed her name from Edith to something else, he might have stayed.

I never did see him again, although I heard once when I was down south, that a man answering his description had been involved in some robbery or other, and the guy who told me was sure that the man I was talking about had been shot cold dead. That’s the way he said it, ‘cold dead’ and a shiver ran right through me, making me think that he was probably right.

My ma had good days and bad ones. There were times when she’d take to her bed on account that the ‘darkness’ had taken her over, and when she was like that there weren’t much I could do except sit with her and hold her hand.

I meant to mention that I had a younger brother, Teddy and he was the kinda guy who was born all growed up. I mean Teddy dealt with all the money (or lack of it) and Teddy was the one who looked after me and my ma. His head was always screwed right on. When Teddy was old enough, and sure that I was gonna survive, he joined the Army and all. Last I heard from him he was a Major, married with two kids and was expecting to retire real soon.

Me and Jackson ran the streets for a few more years after the photo was taken, but then he found God in a gutter in Tallahassee, and became a preacher who toured the panhandle with an old truck and a tent. I hope he did get to Heaven, I really do, and I hope his angel wings ain’t no hand-me-downs either.

As for me, I didn’t do much that was special except look after my ma as the darkness, which didn’t just take her over but in the end, devoured her – god rest her soul – was eventually laid to rest. I guess there are a million of us out there who have done work like that and we don’t have no medals to show for it.

We are the walking wounded and we just keep putting one foot in front of the other – a kinda secret society that don’t have no special handshakes, but we can see the scars in each other’s eyes.

And the reason I show you this photo today, is for a simple reason – it was the only one that was ever took of me. I kid you not.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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At The Top Of Things

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I want to tell you about my world. What happened. Why we are, where we are. Perhaps as a warning, perhaps as a lesson, or maybe just to get all those strange things clearer in my own head. Whatever the reason, it might be worth you taking a few minutes, because I can guarantee that while you are reading this, they will be watching.

In my place, where I live or, more properly, where I lived, we looked in all the wrong places. So maybe we were paranoid, but you must understand we had every right to be. We had been at war for a thousand years with every permutation of neighbour. We fought the rich, the poor, the religious, the black, the white, the red, and the yellow. In fact, we fought wars for every, and any, reason. It was the way we were built, it was in the core of us, in our blood.

We fought each other because all we saw were the differences.

And yet, looking back, we weren’t so different after all. We all inhabited the same planet, had the same biology, but just kept different Gods and idols – different ways to nail us to this little rock of ours. When you live next to someone, you see their faults, their little ways, their selfishness. Yet if you stand at the end of a street, you can see more than that, you can see our similarities. The further you are from something, or someone, or a problem, the clearer you can see it.

So perhaps that is why they chose to live up there.

While we watching our borders, scanning the horizons for refugees, for immigrants – the others were watching us. We were looking in all the wrong places.

All the wrong places.

Take a moment to stop reading this and look up. If it’s only the roof then look out of the window, and see the highest of the buildings out there. It was the one place they knew we wouldn’t look – none of us ever look up.

While we were fighting each other, brother against brother, sister against mother, they moved in to the tops of things.

Look up while striding a city street and you will notice that on the pinnacle of any building are empty rooms – or at least they appear empty. If you are in a town, or a village or a hamlet, look around you – there will be empty rooms hidden at the top of things.

That was where they lived. Up there was where they bred, where they planned, where they gained strength, and where they could look out on us and see our weaknesses, see our faults, but most of all see their victory coming.

Now you’re asking about where they came from. Who knows? My belief is they weren’t from this place, or any place we knew of. Perhaps they had always been here. Perhaps they came in the night. Perhaps they had been underground for millennia.

Yet, they watched and waited, waited and watched. Until the time when we were so busy fighting each other, that we never noticed them take over everything. They brought us to our knees – we were destroyed.

So take this as a warning. As you walk down a street, be it busy, be it ever so quiet, they will be watching you. They will – I know.

Watching from all the rooms at top of things, from all the empty attics, from all the little garrets, and turrets, and lonely corridors. Don’t think they aren’t there, because they are.

Have you never been alone in a room and heard a scrapping, or a scratching up there? You thought it was a mouse, or a rat, or trapped bird. No – it is indeed them, waiting for you all to be looking the other way.

Then they will come.

Take it from me, I know.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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One Night, in 1949

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I guess it would be inaccurate to say that the day started with the sun rising, ‘cause it didn’t. They day started under the moonlight, up on the Greendowner Hills. It was early on in 1949 and folks were still trying to get things back in order after the big one. People had started travelling again and that’s exactly what Sean McCoy had done. He’d come in to town to hear the word of the Lord from a young guy called Billy Graham.

Yet in the middle of the night, and a mile or so out-of-town, a leak had started from the Pauxanatent Dam. The water had crossed the road, undermining the poles carrying the electricity into town. It was only a matter of time before the supply would be cut, but no one knew that yet.

Sean had saved up his money and had decided to stay at the one hotel on the main street, that way he’d be rested for the meeting in the big tent out on the edge of town. His mom gave him another 75 cents for an emergency.

Also coming into town on a bus was a man who was just passing through. He was on his way to Washington D.C. to have a meeting with his state senator. The man on the bus was called Archibald McAllister and he ran a gang down in his part of the country. He was used to dressing up in white sheets and scaring the folks who lived in the area.

Seeing that he had a day or so to play with, Archibald thought it was wiser to stay at the hotel in town rather than ride straight on to D.C. and pay the prices that those thieves were asking up there.

These were two different types of men. Archibald thought life was all about appearances and Sean knew it had more to do with what was in a man’s heart.

When Archibald got to town, he found that because of the Prayer Meeting, there wasn’t room to be had, leastways not in the ‘classier’ hotels. So against his better judgement, and telling himself it was only for one night, he took a room in the worst hotel, at the wrong end of town.

Sometime between sundown and midnight, the leak from the dam became a river and that river brought the poles with the telephone lines and the electricity crashing to the road.

Archibald had brought with him a bottle of bourbon whiskey to make the time go faster, and to kill the pain of being on the road. He was just finishing the last of the bottle when the lights went dark in the cheapest hotel in town and as he said:
“You gets what you pay for in this life.”

But what he didn’t know was that the lights were down all over town. Archibald struggled to get up from his bed, and when he succeeded, he tried to light a candle which was sitting in a drawer by the bed. Whatever went wrong – no one could rightly say – but the next thing was, Sean heard the screaming of a man’s voice coming from the room next door.

Sean felt his way out of his own door and shouldered open Archibald’s door (who had locked his on account of the kind of hotel he was in). Sean felt his way to the window where there was a vase of flowers and threw the jug of water over Archibald, before wrapping him in the bedclothes. Archibald was moaning but Sean felt that he’d doused the fire in good time. Sean tried to find a doctor but given the chaos that the darkness had brought, he walked back to Archibald’s room and sat with him. He ripped up what he could of the sheets and made bandages. He kept getting water from the sink to help Archibald with his thirst.

Archibald came around some, and started to talk to Sean. In the dark it was hard to imagine what each other looked like. Sean said he would stay with him until it got light and then he’d try and fetch a doctor. Archibald thanked him and said that if he was ever down Charleston way, then he was to be sure to look him up.

When dawn broke, and Archibald was sleeping, Sean left his patient and went looking for the doctor. He sent the doctor to Archibald’s room and in the meantime, Sean packed his case as he had to get back home for work.

The doctor said the Archibald would be better at the hospital and helped him get ready. The doctor would take him in his car.
As the doctor and Archibald left the hotel door, Sean was still sitting waiting on his bus. Archibald seeing that there was a black man in his way asked the doctor to help him to cross the street.

The doctor was just about to tell Archibald who the man was, but by then the Sean had stepped on the bus and was on his way back home.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Legend

Equilibrium-robot-artwork-by-Daniel-Arnold-Mist

I suppose history will see October, 17 as the day that the future started. For that was the day when a newHuman wrote a poem. Not one that had been programmed into them, but something that came from its ‘soul’, something that was truly a ghost in the machine.

It had been illegal for more than fifty years to refer to them as ‘robots’. Once they got representation in government, the first policy they pushed through was to change their name – to change their label – to newHuman.

Some of the early creations were so lifelike that a number of people had relationships with the newHumans. This was also illegal for a time, until a law was passed to allow it.

The newHumans didn’t suffer from organic illnesses and this made them stronger. Humans were wiped out in some regions by mysterious sicknesses – there were suspicions that the newHumans had poisoned water supplies (newHumans didn’t need to drink after all).

Within a hundred years, newHumans became the majority. It didn’t take long after that for some human activities to be seen as harmful and illogical. Cinemas and sports’ grounds were closed, and churches were burnt to the ground.
Old humans drifted underground and built cities. Any of them who remained on the surface were hunted as sport (and although this was also illogical, it demonstrated that the newHumans were developing ‘human’ traits).

It didn’t stop there. The newHumans filled their isolation by building memorials to the first newHuman who wrote a poem. October 17th, was celebrated as newHuman day each year.
There were terror attacks from the folks who lived beneath, sometimes they destroyed a newHuman statue, or they razed a building to the ground. Every October 17th, there would be twenty-four hours of constant attacks from the ‘subs’ – the newHuman name for human beings; whether this was short for subterranean or for sub-species, it was never explained.

A new and more sinister activity developed. After catching a ‘sub’, the newHumans didn’t automatically kill them, instead they took them to the coliseum (inspired by their admiration of the Romans) and either made them fight each other or (and this was considered a better use) make them fight animals to the death.
As the decades progressed the newHumans became more like old humans. They started to kill and maim and steal from each other. What they couldn’t escape from, was that their original programming had been by human beings and as such, contained all their strengths, weaknesses, flaws and magic.

Then the day came when no more subs came to the surface.
The newHumans had found ways to destroy the underground settlements. There was one human being left and he was in captivity, shown as an exhibit for all the newHumans to prod and question.
And that was when the wisest of all newHumans, one known as Figaro, suggested that this man, this last human was actually where they had originated from and as such, Figaro suggested that the human should be allowed to spend his final days in peace.
And that is what they did.

When the last human eventually died they didn’t bury him, instead they covered him in gold and built a church to him. The newHumans worshipped their creator and wrote songs and stories about those who had gone before them, about the humans.
It was considered the height of good manners to exhibit human traits. Crying and laughing, however artificial, were displayed at all the best occasions.

They no longer worshipped on October 17, but instead, once a week, they went to their church and prayed to the last human – their god and they thanked him and his species for their existence.
The one possession the last human had kept from his life was a book, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. A newHuman was expected to know the story by heart and every newHuman carried a copy of this with them wherever they went.
………and that, dear friends, was the legend as it was told to me.

 

Bobby Stevenson 2017

photo http://www.9photoshop.com

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Nelle and Tru (For Harper Lee)

kids

 

“I hate going outside, I absolutely hate it, hate it, hate it,” said Nelle to the sad-looking boy standing at the porch door.
“You’ve gotta come, ya just gotta,” said the boy.

“P…l….e…a….s…e!” He said in one of those elongated ways, that folks from town always used. This was Alabama and the way people talked could be used as a weapon, as well as a way into your heart.
“If the sun is too hot, I ain’t coming,” said Nelle.
“When is it never too hot?” Asked the boy.
“Oh you,” shouted Nelle and then stamped her feet. “If you weren’t my best friend, Tru, I would surely hit you in the face.”
“No ya wouldn’t,” said Tru, calmly.
“No I wouldn’t,” added Nelle sheepishly.
“So you coming?”
“Looks like I ain’t got no other choice.”

Tru and Nelle had been friends since they were embryos. The first one born probably waited on the other to arrive. They were close as any two souls could be. Nelle loved Tru’s bouncy hair and Tru loved the fact that Nelle didn’t realise she was a girl.

The place they were heading was over on the other side of town, a place her father, Amasa, had told her never to go near. Her mother, on the other hand didn’t care, she never cared about anything Nelle or Tru got up to. Or anything her father did, either.

“How did you know it was there?” Nelle asked her pal.
“I heard two boys talking about it as I passed the old café, said he’d been there for some days.”
“I guess he must be stinking by now,” said Nelle in a boyish way that Tru admired.

On the way there, Tru had stopped to get a big stick, not to protect himself with, but so he would be able to jab the body when they got there.
Before Tru had called on Nelle he’d already had a peek at the body. All he had seen were the feet but the smell told you that someone was lying dead.

“There he is,” said Tru, pointing at where he’d seen the feet but Tru was looking in another direction – just in case – although he wasn’t quite sure what it was he might see if he looked directly at the body.
“Well I’ll be,” shouted Nelle excitedly. “If it ain’t a dead man.”

And sure enough, that is exactly what it was. Nelle walked right over to the body just as a wave of decomposing flesh hit her nose. Undeterred, she covered her face with her bottom of her shirt and went in for a closer look.

“Can’t say if he’s a black man or whether the sun just roasted him,” she said.

Tru told her that he heard it was a black man who had been chased out of the next town over on account he’d been cheating. Nelle asked Tru what he’d been cheating at, was it playing cards or something? Tru hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation from the boys but he was sure that they had mentioned something about someone’s wife.

“He’d been cheating at cards with someone’s wife,” said Nelle, nodding her head as if she’d got to the core of the mystery. Not wanting to show any fear, Nelle crawled over and turned the body over. Half of the man’s face had been eaten or bashed in, neither of them were sure. What they were sure of was, that both were just as fascinated by the dead man as each other.

“You think it’s weird that I think dead people are worth looking at?” Asked Tru.
“Nope, ‘cause I was thinking just the same. Dead folks are worth looking at,” said Nelle.
“You kids should be at school,” said the man behind them blocking out the sun.
“It’s Saturday,” said Nelle and Tru together.
“Still, dead bodies ain’t no place for kids,” said the man who turned out to be a policeman.
“Where you from?” Asked the cop.

And Nelle and Tru told him they came from way over the other side of town.
“What’s your names, so I can inform your folks, and no lies mind, you’ll only make it worse if you do,” said the man.
“Mine’s, Nelle Harper Lee,” said the girl.
“And mine’s Truman Capote,” said the boy.
“Well skoot,” said the cop. “And don’t let me catch you round this way again, ya hear me?”

By then Nelle and Tru had wandered off looking for another adventure, but the picture in their heads of the dead black man stayed with them for a long time after.

bobby stevenson 2017

capoteharper

 

 

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Me and Buzz and Runnin’ For President

FRIENDS

I guess it all seems kinda obvious now knowin’ what Buzz was gonna become – but back then, we didn’t have no idea, I kid you not.

When Buzz told me that as a good lookin’ kid it was probably beholdin’ to him to run for office. I was thinkin’ that Buzz had surely gone a bit crazy like. But then I was always thinkin’ things like that about my best pal.

“I’m considerin’ runnin’ for Class President,” he said without any warnin’ and which accounted for the fact that I dropped my cola.

“And you is gonna be my manager,” he said slappin’ me on the back as it was an honor.

Now I ain’t sure what a ‘crazy-kid-runnin’-for-president’ manager did exactly but I knew I’d probably find out real quick and it would probably mean a lot of work.

On the way back home from school, Buzz started to kiss mothers and their babies. One or two of them were takin’ by surprise but most of them tried to chase him away. One hit him with her umbrella and said she was hollerin’ for Sheriff McDonald, oh thank you Jesus. Well that’s what she said.

By the time Buzz got home, his Mom had a line of people around to complain’ that her son was a baby-kissin’ idiot. I guess that being a manager might be harder than I thought.

When we got back to school the next mornin’, I thought I was talkin’ to Buzz but I found I was talkin’ to myself and that Buzz was standin’ on an old wooden crate and was tellin’ folks to gather round as he had somethin’ important to tell them. When the folks found out that it wasn’t a party most of them just skedaddled.

“My fellow Americans,” he shouted to the three kids who were left and then he went on about when he was class president he would make sure that everyone got free soda. When Amy, who was seven years of age, asked him how. He said he’d get back to her on that point and she seemed happy enough with that answer. Maybe getting Buzz elected wasn’t gonna be that difficult after all.

Just before the bell, Buzz disappeared from class. He just got up and walked out, sayin’ to Teach that he had important work to do. When the Principal dragged him back about ten minutes later by his ear, it was because he had gone around all the classes and shook peoples’ hands even although they were in the middle of lessons. Even as the teachers were throwin’ him outta class, he still tried to make a speech.

The popular front-runner of the campaign was Jason Heart, a tall, skinny kid who was tellin’ folks that he was committed to helpin’ everyone in school and that Buzz should just be plain committed. Well that kinda talk don’t help anyone, in my book and I told Jason as much.

It was at our darkest hour that Buzz’s Maw came up with a plan. Even though she was as broke as a broke thing, she could still bake and she made cup cakes for everyone in the school (even three for Big Peggy who liked her cup cakes). Well this blew Jason Commitment outta the ball park and Buzz was elected by a land slide.

As a celebration, Buzz suggested that me and him mosey down to the ice-cream parlour and that he’d get it for free on account of him being President and all. Mister McCluskey was servin’ that day and he said, that he wasn’t one of Buzz’s ‘Fellow Americans’ thank you very much, and that we was getting’ no free ice cream either – ‘cause he’d never heard that kinda crazy talk for many a year. So we just left

Buzz only lasted as President for the rest of the week as he sold his title to Jason for a box of candy and a copy of Huckleberry Finn.

Neither of them got us any free soda. You just can’t trust politicians.

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Look of Strangers

strangers2     strangers3

There are those amongst us who slip into to this life like a well-worn glove, who very rarely question its strangeness and in most circumstances prefer to take everything that it offers.

Then there are people like me, Michael Andrews, sometime author, sometimes happy but mostly otherwise confused. There are days when I intentionally tell myself I’m stupid so as not to think too much, so as not to over analyse too much. But on other days…well on those other days I look around and scare myself with what I see. All of us sharing a little rock in space without rhyme nor reason, perhaps that is part of what makes me an author or maybe I’m just going plain mad.

There can only be two answers to this universe; either there is a God in control of everything or there is no one in control and now that I’ve had that thought I don’t want to get out of bed – ever.

Perhaps I’ll just hang on to my mattress and hope that Gravity does its job and keeps me in place.

So on the days I have to go into the city to see some colleague or other, I look at the faces on the subway or on the buses or on the trains or in all those faces of people walking. I look for some recognition that I am not alone in this belief, the belief that this existence really is only for the stupid and that the rest of us are terrified out of our minds the whole time.

And then there is always that nagging feeling which has been around since I was a kid – a feeling that I might have forgotten something important, something that when I remember it will make sense of all of this.

Then I see those faces in the city, those faces looking back at me and I rub my own face looking for marks, or bleeding from my nose or words written on my forehead that say ‘stare at this man’ – but there’s nothing on my face, it’s just the look of strangers.

Maybe they are also looking at me for some recognition that I am going through the same hell as them, but I have that well disguised expression of the stupid and they find no comfort in my face.

But I now know what it is and the truth is even more terrifying than my fevered imagination could have ever created.

I am going to tell you all this as a warning, to tell you to take care. I will tell you what I know and then let you decide.

Last Saturday morning the sun was bleaching the streets of the city and so I decided to take a walk from the central station up to the bohemian part of town.

I passed by the government buildings, the Royal palaces, the squares and avenues that were full of tourists. I walked under trees and arches and I walked around bistros, street cafes, theatres, cinemas and all of them full of strangers, some of whom caught my eye and other who walked on.

Then as I passed a glass shelter at a bus terminal a strange thing happened, I could see in the reflection that many of those who were behind me or had walked passed me were now looking in my direction.

But when I turned around no one was looking. No one was staring and everyone was going about their business. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying it’s the start of the decline, the start of the long journey into the dark. Soon names will be a thing of the past and I will be left in a corner with vacant eyes.

Perhaps I was thinking something similar myself until it happened again.

I had a pair of sunglasses, the type that allows you to see behind oneself, maybe made for this very exercise and there they were again, people looking at me behind my back and when I turned once again – nothing.

Paranoid? – Perhaps.

I took my phone, the one with the video recorder, and began to keep it in the palm of my hand, always filming behind me. At the Gin Joint Cafe I had a coffee and excitedly started to watch the film.

There they were – people who showed no interest in me apart from a look while passing – who, when they were behind me, would stop, look at me and apparently discuss among themselves some detail or another. People who were apparently strangers were talking about me.

Insane? – You would think.

I did what any insane person would do, I turned quickly and started to follow them through the streets and the arches and the squares until several of them disappeared into a doorway, one that slammed shut in my face. I waited on them but no one came out.

I waited and waited and still nothing.

I walked with my head down back to the railway station until in a shop window I saw more of them, a new crowd watching me.

I am ill, I must be.

I let it be. I went about my life ignoring the look of strangers. Some still walked by me and watched my face as if they were drinking in every last detail.

I just assumed I was wrong.

Then one night in the Gin Joint Cafe I drank more than I should have. I sat at the bar like the old soak of a writer I was. It had just gone eleven o’clock when the girl sat next to me.

“You’re Michael Andrews, the writer?”

“What do you want? An autograph or maybe you want to buy me a drink?”

“I just wanted to shake your hand” she said “we are not supposed to do this. It’s against everything.”

“What is?” I asked, slipping back another short.

“Well talking to you, the greatest writer since Shakespeare.”

“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No I haven’t, Michael Steven Andrews, born 1963, died 20… wait I’m not supposed to let you know that.”

“You know when I am going to die?” I asked.

“You died years before I was born” she said.

“We come back to visit all the great ones, you and Shakespeare are the most popular.”

“Come back from where?”

“The future, your future, I mean you have already found out that Einstein was wrong and things can travel faster than light. It won’t be long until you start sending objects back in time.”

I was about to ask what asylum she had escaped from when she disappeared.

So now you know what I know. When you get that look from a stranger then perhaps they are more than just inquisitive. Perhaps they are one of your own descendants or a student or a time tourist.

Who or whatever they are, just do what I do and keep on walking.

It’s safer that way.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Mister Brilliant (for Lily on her birthday)

judyardeviantart

His real name was Cuthbert Dogoody but to everyone else he was simply known as Mister Brilliant.

He’d never had the easiest of lives, had Cuthbert. When he was five years of age his father ran away to sea – at least that’s what his mother had told him – the truth of the matter was that his father moved in with a young blonde lady three streets over, and the man who Cuthbert knew as the postman was actually his dad.

Cuthbert’s grandmother, Ethel (the ever ready) was a money-lender who ended up being sent to prison for her particularly difficult ways with her customers. Cuthbert’s mother told her son, that his grandmother was spending a few years trying to find the source of the River Nile. It always amazed Cuthbert, later in life, that he had believed the story and had told all the kids in his class at school about Grandma Ethel – the explorer.

His uncle, Stan the Man, who was a part-time magician and someone who Cuthbert had always looked up to (literally, he was six feet seven) died while attempting to hold his breath in a fish tank. The tank was actually in a Chinese restaurant, and Stan had attempted it as part of a bet with Shanghai Lil the owner of the establishment.

Sadie, uncle Stan’s widow, had attempted to fill Stan’s rather big shoes (he had also been a part-time clown) by looking after Cuthbert and to helping him with his life. This mostly involved Cuthbert going along on dates with Sadie and several gentlemen from the Royal Navy. Stan would sit in the corner of a bar with a cola and a packet of chips, while Sadie sat kissing some man or other.

His best friend in the whole world was Teddy who was in his class in school. Teddy was without doubt the most popular kid in the place. There wasn’t anything Teddy couldn’t do, or anyone that Teddy couldn’t charm and the one thing that Teddy always did was look after his best pal, Cuthbert. No one bullied Cuthbert, not while Teddy was about.

Teddy knew that his best bud’s father was actually the postman but it would never have crossed Teddy’s mind to ever say anything that would hurt his pal.

One afternoon on the way home from school, Teddy asked Cuthbert to be his ‘blood brother’. They cut their thumbs then mixed their blood together and that was them set for life. At least that’s what Cuthbert thought. The truth was that Teddy was taking the long way around to tell his pal, that his mother had met a man who was big in ladies’ underwear and that they were moving to somewhere called, Liverpool.

The following Monday, Teddy was gone. When Cuthbert went into school, all the folks who had been charmed by Teddy were ready to bully Cuthbert. It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, but with a little bit of running and keeping one’s head down, Cuthbert made it to the end of his school career, relatively intact.

Cuthbert got his first job as a tea-boy in an office of an insurance firm. Cuthbert’s duties involved making the tea, coffee (for those of that persuasion), lemonade and a little whisky for Mister McCallister who was partial to that sort of thing.

Everything was going well until Seamus Hooster (of the Hooster Brothers Insurance Agency) got trampled on by a runaway giraffe one wet Tuesday in the High Street. This caused the firm to close and the folks, including Cuthbert, were all made redundant.

That was the very same day that Cuthbert came home to find that his mother had moved without leaving a forwarding address. It seemed to Cuthbert that this was the way life worked, for when a soul was down the rest of the world just jumped on top of them and kicked their heads.

Now you might think that all of these shenanigans would have meant the end of Cuthbert Dogoody – but you’d be wrong.

Cuthbert was either not like lesser men, or perhaps he was too naive to see the predicament he was in – but one day, one very early day when Cuthbert had sat up all night thinking about what to do next – he let out an exclamation of ‘A-ha!’. That was all he said: ‘A-ha’.

But it was enough, as far as Cuthbert was concerned, as it spoke a million words. At least to him.

For you see, at a very early age, Cuthbert decided that life was difficult for everyone and people didn’t need to be reminded of that. What people did need reminding of was their the possibilities. In everyone’s life (and Cuthbert was sure he meant everyone) there were bad times, good times and blooming brilliant times. At some point in the future a brilliant time would come popping up without warning.

So Cuthbert made it his life’s work to remind everyone and anyone that brilliant times were just around the corner.

If he ever met anyone down or tired he’d just talk to them about how, someday soon, brilliant times were just up ahead.

“Not long now,” he’d shout to people and they’d always call back:

“Till when, Mister Brilliant?”

“Till good things come around the corner.”

From that day onwards he was known as Mister Brilliant – because (and he was right) good times were just up the road a little, and everyone got their shot at it.

I think Mister Brilliant can see yours just coming into view, Lily.

Enjoy!

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo: judyar.deviantart.com

The Ballad Of The Quiet Man

man-on-bench

He said nothing, not a word ever passed his lips,
He just sat in the peace and quiet with a Mona Lisa smile,
One cold day the Angry People passed his way
All shouting about this and that and the other
They stopped and asked the quiet man if he was angry too
He said not a word and the Angry People liked that
“This man is so angry about this and that and the other, he is seething with rage”.
They shook his hand and on they went.

Then one summer’s evening the sad folks were passing by
They looked at the quiet man and then sat beside him
“This man is mourning, this man says nothing but the sadness shows upon his face”.
They wept beside the quiet man then walked on down the road

On an afternoon like any other, a stupid man was walking through as he was lost. He asked the quiet man the way to town and when he didn’t reply
The stupid man smiled and said, “I see you are as stupid as I am. ‘Tis better to say nothing and not look the fool.”
The stupid man wished his stupid brother well and continued to be lost.

Just before the start of autumn, some happy people were running and jumping and came to rest next to the quiet man
“Look here,” one shouted .”This man is so happy that he smiles in his contentment.”
And the people all cheered and carried him shoulder-high down the lane towards the town.
This happened to the quiet man more than he would have liked and once again he had to walk all the way back home.



bobby stevenson 2017

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The Doll

woman

I can’t honestly remember who first called her, ‘The Doll’. If memory serves me well (and it usually doesn’t) I think it was her Aunt May

“You, young‘un, are the sweetest, kindest little doll, I ever did see,” she’d say, then kiss her on the lips.

So the name stuck, and although she had two more sisters (just as sweet), she was the one always called The Doll.

When she was a kid, she’d watch ‘I Dream of Jeanie’ on the television which stood in the corner of the lounge, and was never really looked at by anyone else in the family. This is probably where she got the taste for the thing that would drive her on in later years – fame.

It was all she could think of, to be as famous as Marilyn, or to be as well-dressed as Jackie. But her family weren’t the wealthiest in town, so she had to think of a way to get up there, to get her to the top.

In High School, she started ‘putting-out’ for the quarter-backs, who would take her to a party and have their way with her. The only time she would be mentioned again, was in the locker room, when they were having a show of hands on who had been there.

Somewhere along the way, she started dating the geeks, usually the ones who lived up in Lovell Drive (where the mansions were) and whose daddies ran the local industries. Their families were normally pleased to see that their sons could get a girl like her. But soon some of the parents realised that she was just working her way along the drive, and the invitations stopped.

She got what she was wishing for – kind of – when she was pointed at in school, but not in a good way. At home, she’d walk in the front door, smile and laugh through gritted teeth. If she made it to the end of a family meal, she’d then go upstairs and cry her heart away into the middle of the night.

She couldn’t understand where she was going wrong. All she wanted to happen was for folks to notice her.

In college, she started to grow into a real beauty and some of the best of the men would ask her out on a date. But they didn’t make her happy, because they couldn’t make her famous.

She started going to parties where she knew the better looking kids hung out. Many times she’d just sneak in and given how good she looked – she’d find that she’d quickly fit in. But she’d always leave her personality behind at home, and so she didn’t make the impression she felt she was due.

She thought she might be an actress and got herself an agent (not the best of men) who got her parts in stage plays, and ‘walk-ons’ in b-movies. Still, it got her a write-up in the local paper and that made her feel good about herself.

She dated a couple of older actors whom she’d met on set, and who were on the slide – acting wise. One treated her well, but wasn’t into a physical relationship, the other had a lot of money and took upon himself to beat her badly on several occasions.

It was the same week that she was released from hospital with another broken bone that she decided to head for Hollywood and the big time. She met him the first day she arrived.

She’d bumped into him as he was carrying a cup of steaming hot coffee. It burned and hurt, but she didn’t complain because she recognized him as a runner who had just won several gold medals in the Olympics. He looked good too, and she liked what she saw. They looked great together.

Within a month, she had moved in with him up in the Hills and she began to get photographed; some of them even made it into the magazines.

She could deal with his anger rages, as long as she kept getting her face seen about town. Sometimes she cried in the bath, sometimes she didn’t. She was where she was, because she wanted to be.

He told the police that the gun had gone off accidentally. It had been the one he had used in the movie, ‘The Silent Soldier’. He had been showing some close friends the gun at his mansion, and when they’d left he’d only pointed at her as a joke. He didn’t know (swear to God) it was loaded.

So in the end she got to be famous – especially at his court case when her face was splashed around the world. As the judge said in the summing up: “sometimes you got to be careful what you wish for”.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Bird

His family loved him, of that you can be sure. He was, after all, from them and like them. Sometimes when his mother walked with her child along a street, he would look up at her and see the pride in her eyes. And sometimes when she was tired of dealing with the unkindness of others, and the way they stared at her little son, he could see tears in her face. She would secretly dry her eyes with her coat sleeve, smile the biggest of smiles, and encourage her boy to hurry along.

In his early years, no one told him that he was different in any way. It was only when he went out into the world – a world of half-formed people, with half-formed hearts and half-formed love, that he found the winds were just that little bit colder, and the shadows somewhat darker.

When his mother caught him staring into a mirror with his usual look of bewilderment – she would shout, ‘now ain’t you just the most beautiful creation ever’. And to her and her family he was the most beautiful of children.

She did her best to warn him of the apes who lived outside the walls of their home. Those apes all looked alike, and that made them feel that they were a tribe, that they all belonged together – but they also carried hate in their hearts – perhaps they were born with it, or it was legacy passed down from parent to child – but it was the hate which drove the tribe, and the hate which caused them to despise others who were not like them.

She told him that he should walk with the stars which filled the night sky and not be scared of them. That the universe was magnificent and vast, and that those who chose to look only at creatures near them and judge them, were only cave dwellers, who were blind in eye and heart.

In his first day at school, a little girl had read a story called the ‘Ugly Duckling’, and his new class mates had all looked at him. But he knew from his family that he had special gifts, and they weren’t going to go away or transform him into a beauty that the rest of the word could deal with.

He was beautiful, it was as simple as that. He had wings which none of his family had, and he could fly at any time. Something that any of his classmates would have wished that they could do.

He knew he was different, and he knew he was beautiful, and he knew he could soar above the clouds. He had no need to show others to be accepted. He might have to live a life with the half-formed hearts trying to break him or even, make him disappear. He would be called ugly, he would be spat upon, he would be beaten by stones, but in the end, he would always remember what his mother had whispered in his ear one birthday: ‘chase happiness’.

So, that is what he did. He decided that in order to be happy, he had to help happiness in others. That meant being a new super hero. Maybe not the first, but definitely a very different one. By day he was a mild-mannered kid, who did what he was told, and smiled at everyone. After school, it was a very different story, his hat and coat were thrown aside (he couldn’t change in a phone box) and he’d spread his wings and swoop down on anyone in need of help.

It probably all started with that kid who lived in the next street. He was a child with an imagination and therefore didn’t need much else in his life. He could build fantastic new worlds out of twigs, empty jars, and old boxes. What his world lacked in colour and structure was painted by the thoughts in his head. Now I’m not saying any of that is wrong, but sometimes this kind of behaviour scares folks who can’t keep a single thought between their ears.

It was the fattest kid in the area, and the tallest kid, who hung together and caused maximum mayhem where ever they went. Perhaps these were just two outsiders who thrust themselves into the centre of things by hurting others. If they were hurting folks, then those people couldn’t harm them.

The kid in the next street had built a castle made from glass jars, it looked clever and displayed a degree of talent, which was the kind of thing that really bothered bullies. So, one morning the fat boy and the tall boy looked over the hedge of a garden and saw the kid from the next street and his castle, and decided to kick it over, throwing the jars into the road. They would cheer every time one smashed and needless to say the kid from the next street started to cry.

It was this sad sound which first attracted our half-bird-half-boy (who at the time was feeling happy about his new hat, and kept tipping it to the side to see which angle looked better).

Our hero, threw off his human clothing and headed to the source of the crying where he saw immediately what had occurred. He started pecking at the fat boy and then the tall boy – and although they tried to swat him away, it didn’t work. The fat boy was sure that the bird would peck out his eyes, and so ran away leaving his friend to take the punishment. Once the tall boy had enough of the bird, he, too, ran off.

This was the way his life continued for a while. The boy-bird would swoop down on those being victimized and would then use his beak to put right the wrongs of this world. Sometimes he was hurt himself, when they fought back, and on other times he wasn’t.

Then one Saturday morning, he found himself sitting on the highest branch of the tallest tree in a local park. He tended to hide this way when he was outside and naked – meaning that he was without his human clothes. It did feel good but he also felt that as a bird-boy he had a responsibility not to run around without any clothes on, leastways, not when humans were watching.

As he was watching the park, he spied some children playing a game of football. He’d always wanted to play football but most birds weren’t that excited about the prospect, and he found it difficult to get a game. On the other hand, most humans weren’t too keen on birds playing football either. So as far as he was concerned it was basically a stand-off.

The kids were enjoying themselves until a taller and older looking child, tackled one of the smallest. The little boy let out a scream and seeing he was upset, the injured boy’s friends started to pick on the larger kid. It looked as if all-out war would ensue, until our little bird flew above the melee and started to shout and whistle:

“That’s enough,” he shouted in a high squeaky bird voice. He called out again but still there was no reaction. So, our little bird friend landed on the head of the tallest kid and started to peck at his head.

“Ow!” Yelled the boy.

“Behave yourself,” said the bird.

“Says who?”

“Says me,” said the high-pitched bird (although in bird circles he was known to have quite a butch voice).

“Want to be our ref?” Asked one of the younger kids.

“Sure,” said the bird.

And that was where it all started. That day in the park, our bird started on a journey that took him from fan, to referee and then to running the team.As he was the only bird in that job, he became famous, always in the newspapers and forever on television.

And now our little friend manages an English Premier League team – of course you don’t need me to tell you which one.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: Alexei Petrenkov

 

The Dog Who Loved To Drive

dog

It was New Year’s Day, 1913 and Andrew was bored. Everyone in the house was sleeping off the after-effects of the Ball which his parents insisted on holding every stupid year. This meant that no one would be driving the motor car that day and this made Andrew smile. All he needed was to rev the old beast up, find Buster and then the two of them could be off to the seaside.

Buster wasn’t just Andrew’s dog, he was his best pal and was probably much cleverer than the boy  – but then again, Buster wasn’t one to brag.

Andrew sat Buster in the driving seat as he pushed the car silently out of the stables and under the nose of Reynolds – the little man who looked after everything mechanical for the big house.

Andrew’s father promised his son his own motor car when it came to the time that he would go up to Oxford – until then he had to take every opportunity to teach himself the rudiments of driving. How hard could it be? I mean, Buster was steering the car along the drive and he was a dog.

Before they got to the big gates Andrew checked there was enough fuel to get them to the coast and back.

“Good man, Reynolds,” thought Andrew – Reynolds always kept the motor car in ship-shape and ready for the off. All Andrew had to do was turn the crank and that would be that. The motor car spluttered into life, shaking and banging before it settled down and began purr like a big cat.

Andrew hopped in and made Buster sit in the passenger seat (much to the dog’s annoyance). It was several minutes before the dog looked in Andrew’s direction again. Okay, so the dog was very clever and very friendly but it could get annoyed if it didn’t get its own way. Andrew knew how to bring Buster around by giving him a saucer of champagne – and not just any kind of champagne it had to be the 1893 and it had to be served at room temperature. Buster was a snob, as if I need to tell you.

It wasn’t long before they were on the road to the coast. Naturally being New Year’s Day, the road was empty of traffic without even a horse to be seen. The road was straight enough that Andrew felt confident to let Buster steer the car, Andrew worked all the other buttons and pedals.

Whether it was the effects of a  late night or all the dancing at the Ball, sleep crept up on Andrew and he fell into a deep dream. Buster hadn’t noticed and wasn’t caring since he was driving a human car and it felt great.  As they drove through the next town, a Mrs Styler of Heyham High Street looked out her window to see one of those new motor cars being driven by a dog and a man (who looked unconscious) in the other seat. She was going to mention it to her husband when she decided that he was already looking for an excuse to get her locked up and this would be the perfect gift for him, so she went back to bed and lay down in the darkened room.

Somewhere just outside of town the car ran out of fuel and Buster guided it to the side of the road. He then started to bark at Andrew.  Okay Andrew would have heard it as just barking but to Buster it sounded as if he was telling his lazy friend to fill up the car with more fuel. After what seemed a very long time (which in dog’s years was probably true) Buster decided to fill up the car with fuel himself; a farmer who was in field nearby saw this and decided that he had been working too hard and for the first time in his life went home early.

Once again Buster barked and barked but he couldn’t get Andrew to waken so being a very self-reliant dog, it decided to turn the crank handle itself. With Andrew’s hands and feet still on the buttons and such like, the motor car suddenly moved off on its own. It shot down the coast road with Buster running behind barking that someone should try to stop the human motor car.

The Reverend Dunlop was opening his church doors when he saw a motor car driving down the road with the driver asleep and a dog running behind barking. He smiled to himself and continued with his work.  Just as the motor car entered town, Buster managed to jump back on board and turn the car along the coast road. Buster knew he couldn’t stop the car – so his only options were to drive it into the sea, or let it run out of fuel, or try to turn the motor car around and head for home.

It was then that Buster noticed a large house with many dogs and bitches running around the garden. He turned the motor car into the drive and as the car laboured up the hill, he invited the other animals to jump aboard. As he drove the car out of the grounds there must have been nearly twenty dogs and bitches sitting in the motor car. Two of them were on top of the sleeping Andrew.

Buster continued driving along the coast and at the big pier, the car once again ran out of fuel. So leaving the sleeping Andrew in the car, Buster and his pals spent several hours running along the beach and stealing food when the humans weren’t looking. All too quickly the sun started to go down and so Buster filled the car with the last of the fuel, and got several of his pals to turn the crank.

After a very satisfying day, Buster drove back through the dogs’ home, dropping off his friends. It was dark when the car reached home and as Buster had no way of stopping it, he drove the car into the garage hoping the something would bring it to a halt. Actually the car burst through the back wall and continued across the lawn but by this time Buster had already jumped off.

Reynolds found a very confused Andrew several miles away in the forest where the motor car had eventually run out of fuel. Buster on the other hand was safely tucked up in his warm bed and dreaming of more adventures.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Zoot and Sandy

elephant

Dream Thieves

Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating past their little seat.

They were always comfortable in each other’s company, so much so that most times they never felt the need to talk – sometimes this lasted for hours. Just the one being at their side was enough for the other.

“How come we never talk?” asked Sandy to his pal one day.

“Well, perhaps we hear too much talking in our lives away from the beach,” said a very thoughtful Zoot.

“You know,” said Sandy. “I don’t know too much about your life and you don’t know much about mine but it doesn’t seem to matter.”

“No, it doesn’t,” said Zoot but there was a feeling that he would like to have known more. “Did you never want to do something with your life?” asked the dog.

“I did, I still do,” said the elephant. “I want to be an opera singer.”

“That’s cool, I never knew that about you,” said Zoot the dog.

“What about you?” asked Sandy.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to be a footballer,” said a very proud Zoot.

“So why haven’t you?” asked a curious elephant.

“Because dogs don’t play football and if I might bring it up, elephants don’t sing in operas,” said Zoot, sadly.

And even ‘though they discussed it for the rest of the day neither of them could remember where they’d read that dogs didn’t play football and elephants didn’t sing in operas.

The following day was very like the previous one with the friends sitting by the river watching life fly by them.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Sandy. “I have been thinking about the opera and my singing. What would my family say?” he asked to no one in particular. “And what about my friends?”

Zoot thought for a moment then said, “I am your friend and I would be proud if you sang and if the singing made you happy.”

Sandy asked Zoot if he wanted anything. Zoot told him that he wanted to be a footballer. Apparently dogs were very good at playing football except people never gave dogs a chance.

Then Sandy told Zoot a story about the most dangerous people in the whole wide world. Some of these people weren’t born dangerous, some couldn’t be anything other than dangerous and some didn’t mean to be dangerous.

Zoot wanted to know who these people were and where they lived.

“They live everywhere,” said Sandy.

“Everywhere?” asked Zoot.

“There have a name, one they don’t mention but they know each other by sight. They are called the Dream Thieves.”

Zoot looked confused. “So that is why you are not an opera singer and I am not a footballer?”

Sandy told Zoot that the Dream Thieves didn’t have any power of their own; after all they would prefer that everyone lived in caves – that we were all constantly in the dark.

“They live off your fear. By thinking you are not good enough feeds them with power.”

“How do we beat the Dream Thieves?” asked Zoot.

“By only trusting yourself,” said Sandy proudly.”The Dream Thieves are really the scared ones. They don’t want you to do something they are afraid to do themselves.”

Zoot thought for a few moments and then stood.

“I am off to play football, I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Zoot and whistled all the way home.

 

The Birds

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and were sitting by the river.

“Them things in the sky,” said Zoot.

“The birds?” Asked Sandy.

“Yup, the birds, do you think they are happy?”

“I guess so,” said Sandy. “Why wouldn’t they be?”

“I wish I could fly,” said Zoot.

Sandy smiled to himself about flying dogs and then remembered that story about flying elephants.

“Why would you want to do a thing like that – flying , it’s dangerous,” said Sandy.

“Not for the birds, it isn’t.”

“Yeh, but they don’t know any better. Flying is all they know.” Sandy was getting worried about Zoot.

“What’s up, Zoot?”

“I’m fed up being a dog, I want to be able to fly.”

“Don’t you think, that one of those birds is looking down at us and saying, I wish I was an elephant or a dog, so that I can stay on the ground – I’m tired of always flying?”

“Nope.”

“I can bet you they do. It’s they way we are all made. Wishing to be something or someone else.”

“I do it all the time,” said Zoot. “I’m always wishing I wasn’t a dog.”

“That’s because being a dog is easy for you, you were born a dog, and despite what you wish for, you’ll probably die a dog. Unless you’ve got a hankering to tie a pair of wings on your back; it’s because you’re a dog, you don’t see how special that is.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said a confused Zoot.

“We’re all made to be something that’s different from everything else. No matter what you say, Zoot, you’re unique.”

“I am?”

“Of course you are, and more importantly you’re my pal. Do you think I would be friends with just anyone?”

“I guess not,” said Zoot, who was a little more pleased.

“Some are made to fly, some are born to dance, some to sing, some to stand and see the stars. All of us, and I mean all of us, are different from the next thing. Even the leaves on the trees are all different.”

“So what are you saying, Sandy?” Asked Zoot.

“That you were born to be a dog, Zoot, my friend. And even if there is a dog kinda like you in the future, he won’t have been born in this time, knowing me, doing the things we do.”

“Like sitting by the river and talking?”

“Exactly. Too many people…”

“And animals,” added Zoot.

“And animals are unhappy with what they’ve got. But if they could only see that what they’ve got is a miracle then they’d stop wishing to be something else. You are what the universe made you. If you spend your days wishing it away, then you’ve turned your back on the universe. Why would anything want to do that?”

“So I should stop wishing I wasn’t a dog and just be happy.”

“You got it.”

“What about being a rich dog then?” Asked Zoot.

Sandy just looked at his buddy and smiled. That’s why he loved Zoot so much.

 

The Universe

Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating past their little seat.

“Looks like another great day,” said Zoot.

“It’s always a great day,” agreed Sandy. “Tell me something pal, what do you see when you look in the mirror?” Asked the elephant.

“Usually I notice that the paint in the wall behind me needs painting, that’s what I see. To be honest it annoys me,” said the dog.

“Anything else?” Asked Sandy in a real curious manner as elephants tended to do.

“Well I see me.”

“Aha!” Shouted Sandy.

“What? What have I said?” Questioned the dog, feeling as if he must have put his paw in it once again.

“You see what you think is yourself. What your brain tells you to see.”

“So you’re saying, that I ain’t a dog?” Asked Zoot.

“Of course you’re a dog, Zoot and if you don’t mind me saying, the best dog I’ve ever met. But you don’t see what I see.”

“Cause you see an elephant when you look in your mirror,” said Zoot smugly.

“I grant you that point, but when I look at you, I see you through an elephant’s brain and it won’t be what you see through a dog’s brain.”

“Is there a point to all of this?” Asked a perplexed Zoot.

“I’m just saying that we judge folks on what we see, and we sometimes think that they are wrong when all the time it’s just the way our brain is warping everything that makes us see them differently.”

“So we don’t really stand a chance at being fair, is that what you’re saying Sandy?”

“I’m just saying that you have to make allowances. I make allowances for you being a dog, just as you make allowances for me being perfect,” said Sandy with the biggest elephant grin.

“Oh I make allowances for you, that’s for sure,” said Zoot.

“Meaning what?” Asked a curious elephant.

“Meaning that you are much bigger than me and sometimes when you sit on the bench real hard, I shoot up several feet. Twice I’ve landed in the sea.”

“And I make allowances for you, Zoot when you get in to one of those ‘chasing your tail’ things.”

“I do it because it’s fun, Sandy.”

“Exactly Zoot. You see a wild thing that needs to be chased and I just see a dog’s tail. Beautiful as it is. No one sees the universe the same. Some people look at those birds and wonder where they’re headed. Some look at them and wonder what they’d taste like with some potatoes and some just look at them in wonder.”

“So what do we do, Sandy?”

“We make allowances for everyone and everything.”

And with that Zoot and Sandy just stared at the universe and saw different things.

 

Happiness

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and were sitting by the river.

“You think them birds are going somewhere?” Asked Zoot to his pal.

“Why do you ask, young Zoot?” Replied Sandy in a fatherly kinda way.

“Oh, just wonderin’. Can’t help but wonder about life sometimes, that’s all.”

“You sickenin’ for somethin’?” Asked a concerned Sandy.

“Not that I know, I just wondered if those birds were lookin’ for happiness. You know they ain’t happy where they are, so maybe they fly on to somewhere else. Maybe happiness is a place.”

“Hold on one minute there, Buddy. What makes the birds happy might not make you happy. I mean, you’re a dog. Would eating seeds and berries and sitting on tree branches mean happiness to you?”

Zoot thought about it for a while.

“Why, I guess you’re right Sandy, ain’t nothin’ there that would make me happy. But maybe where there are trees and berries they’d be things to make a dog happy,too?”

“I ain’t sayin’ you’re right and I ain’t sayin’ you’re wrong. I’m just sayin’ to think about it different. Now we’re happy here sittin’ by the river and talkin’

about this and that and everythin’ else. Well ain’t we?”

“I guess,” said Zoot.

“All we got, is ourselves and the sea, and they ain’t chargin’ for that yet.”

“What about money ‘though, Sandy. Don’t that make folks happy?”

“Might do, for a short time,” said Sandy. “But then, if you’re only happy when you got money, you’re gonna have to keep getting’ money, to make you feel

you’re happy. Kinda like a drug or smokin’ or stuff.”

“So money don’t make ya happy,Sandy?”

“That ain’t what I’m sayin’, bud. I’m sayin’ if you need it to make you happy then you’re never going to be truly happy.”

Zoot thought about all this for a time, then said: “What about the birds. Don’t they travel somewhere else to be happy.”

“I can’t really talk for the birds, Zoot, but if goin’ somewhere else is gonna make you happy, you really need to have been happy before you started out.”

“I don’t understand,” said Zoot.

“You might travel to another place, and ‘cause it’s new or different…”

“…or both,” added Zoot.

“Or both, you might be convinced that you’re happy ‘cause it’s not where you came from. But give it long enough and the way you’re feelin’ will sink back into your thoughts, ‘cause the new place it ain’t so new anymore…”

“..or different,” added Zoot again.

“..or different.”

“So what you’re sayin’ is, if I ain’t happy here, I ain’t gonna be happy anywhere.”

“That’s about it. ‘Cause I got you and you got me and we both got the sea, and all that makes me happy.”

“And me.”

“And you, Zoot. So be happy here and now and you’ll always be happy.”

“How do I do that Sandy?”

“Just count your blessings, Zoot. Some folks would give everythin’ just to have what you have, but when you have it every day, you sometimes take things for granted. You forget how lucky you really are.”

“Tell you what, Sandy, I’m gonna walk home and count up my blessings all the way.”

“You do that, Zoot and I’ll see ya tomorrow, same place.”

“See ya tomorrow.”

Then Zoot started countin’ all the way home.
bobby stevenson 2017

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Broken

heart-broken-man

Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well.

He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty-seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other, so he was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.

The news station annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why – because it didn’t make news.

He was becoming sick of it all, fighting every day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other dads and just get on with it.

Most of his life was a habit but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared, his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up.

He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty-five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath.

So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day.

______

Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so.

He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at another in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.

He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so.

So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.

_______

What can you say about a child who’s been murdered? The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone.

The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever.

Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.

The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.

The night she went missing, the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point but like all other leads she had been not considered a serious contender.

Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track.

Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy had been looking. He wasn’t sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.

______

We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst no one could get you through that.

My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her bum had gone.

I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could – but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin.

I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:

“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss”

But they didn’t they just kept on singing.

Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought – why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished.

______

Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed.

Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to.

Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights.

______

My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.

They haven’t caught me yet.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: http://www.classic105.com

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THING and His Teacher

thing

Her name was Elizabeth Browning, yep, just like the poet lady and to everyone at Thing’s school, she had been known as Mrs Honey. Where that name came from no one was sure, but she did make everyone feel good and warm (just like honey). There is probably a teacher like that in most peoples’ lives; someone who comes along once in the whole schooling process and manages to get the best out of everyone.

Thing remembered his first day at school and how he’d seen Mrs Honey skim the room with those deep blue eyes which came to rest on Thing’s gaze.

“And who might you be, little one?” She asked.

“They call me Thing,” he’d answered.

“Who do?”

“Everyone,” he’d replied.

“Then if it’s good enough for everyone then it’s good enough for me.”

And with that Mrs Honey had started to get to know all the new kids. For she knew that a classroom is just a small slice of the world, and some folks were going to have to be helped to swim through it all and some others would only need the lightest of shoves.

The most important point that Mrs Honey had noticed about Thing was, that he might look different from some of the other folks in the class but, basically he was just a kid like everyone else. It was the ones who didn’t look different on the outside that some folks could overlook and not realise that they were drowning inside.

One warm, scarlet red, evening Thing was sitting at the mouth of his cave and wasn’t really thinking about much – maybe a bit of this or that sometimes, but nothing that could trouble a mind. It had been a while since Thing had left school for the final time and Mrs Honey had long since retired, so he was surprised, as probably you and I would be, to see her walking her way up to the cave.

“Well I do declare,” she shouted as she got nearer. “How’s my little precious Thing doing these days?”

So Mrs Honey sat because, as she said, she wasn’t as young as she once had been, and she and Thing talked over lots and lots of different stuff. He told her that he was waiting on his parents to come home someday and she told him about how much she missed teaching and all the children that had passed through her class.

Then she asked what Thing had been doing since he’d left school.

“Some of this and some of that,” he told her. “I went looking for the horizon but I never got to find it,” he said sadly.

And Mrs Honey told Thing that everyone was looking for some kind of horizon, because everyone thought that happiness probably lay just over the horizon.

“So how come the horizon is so hard to find?” Thing asked his old teacher.

“ ’Cause the horizon don’t really exist. It’s just somethin’ out there. Happiness is in here and here,” and with that she touched her heart and her head.

Then she asked Thing if he’d ever thought of teaching and he had to say that he hadn’t.

“Other folks wouldn’t let me teach. I mean, when I walk through the town people sometimes throw rocks at me,” he said sadly.

“And these are the folks that need the teachin’.”

“About what?”

“About what? About tolerance. About understanding. About how folks are all different in their own ways. About love.”

“I could teach all that?” Asked Thing.

“Hey child, you wrote the book on that stuff.”

And Thing said he didn’t remember writing any book and Mrs Honey said it was only a term of speech.

“You could be special in so many folks’ lives, if you’d only give it a try,” said Mrs Honey.

“Where would I start?” Asked an excited Thing.

“You come and see me tomorrow and I’ll give you pointers. Goodness, as if the world don’t need someone like you. You have a heart and a mind and you can’t let that go to waste. Believe me.”

And funnily enough he did believe her. And it felt warm, like honey.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Best of All Summers

jottifry

best

Some things remain with you forever.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a trip in an old battered car and caravan, and although I didn’t know it at the time, my father was dying. He was only forty years of age and he was dying of a brain tumour.

What can I tell you about me back then? That I was the only son of parents who never got around to marrying? That I lived with my two sisters and a cat and that despite not having any money, we lived in a house packed to the roof with love.

Maybe that’s as good as it gets in anyone’s life.

My father was the gentlest of hearts and the kindest of men, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. I’m saying it because it was true. It was his strength and his weakness. My mother watched so many people taking advantage of his goodness, that in the end she put herself in the way of anyone trying to use him. This made her seem hard but she was willing to put up with that, because that was what our family was always about – love.

My parents had decided that when school was closed for the summer, Mum and the girls would go to London for a few days to see a show, while me and Dad would go north taking his old car hooked up to Granddad’s caravan. I knew Dad was probably hoping this would be a chance for us to talk, as he was always working and I was always in my bedroom being misunderstood. Even at ten years of age I had no real idea how to enjoy myself.

On that summer, that glorious summer, school finished and my life began. Dad drove Mum and the girls to the railway station and I sat on the front steps waiting, bag ready and caravan packed.

I’ll always remember the ‘toot-toot-toot’ of my Dad on the car horn as he returned from the station, letting everyone in the street know that the boys were off on holiday. All those unused days were spread before us, waiting.

If I’d thought that it was going to be a particularly difficult time sitting in the car with my Dad, I was wrong. I had imagined him and me struggling to talk to each other and stumbling over words. I guess I’ve always made assumptions about things. I’ve worried and assumed – I suppose that’s what should be written on my headstone. There I go again.

As we drove towards the coast, I felt ashamed of myself. Here was a man who knew all about my writings and about the books I’d read. He would steal himself into my room after he came home late from work, too late to wish me goodnight but long enough to kiss me on the forehead and absorb from the room who and what I was. There was I knowing very little about him, except he was my father and he was rarely home.

I don’t recall when he stopped the car but I do remember it getting dark. I had been telling him all about the characters in some Dickens novel when I must have fallen asleep in his arms. When I awoke, it was morning and the sun was fighting the condensation on the window. Dad had placed me in the back seat and covered me with his jacket.

The car was freezing and as I sat up, I shivered. I wiped away mist from the side window and saw, that despite the sun, the sky and the sea were a cold blue, broken up by the foamy edges of the waves.  We had parked at the edge of a cliff and Dad was sitting, staring – that was all he was doing – just staring. When I felt brave enough, I ventured outside to join him. I’ll always remember his face that day, the wind had slapped his cheeks into a Santa Claus red and his eyes were watering, stung by the sea. You could almost imagine that he had been crying, and I wonder now, from all those years away, if he had been.

He told me to sit next to him and he put his arm around me, “You, and me, son are going on an adventure”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the sound of ‘adventure’ and I loved my father and felt safe with him but there was always a part of me that wanted to return to the protection of my bedroom, pull up my arms into my sleeves and wait on the next hurtful thing. Yeah, you’re right, I was one weird kid.

As we came over the hill I could see it: Blackpool Tower. I had never seen anything so tall in all my life and was so excited that I forgot about my misgivings. The place was alive with people who were swept up with enjoying life and buzzing with laughter. There were donkey rides by the sea, the odd uncle with a handkerchief on his head to keep the sun away and people breaking their teeth on sticks of rocks, slurping ice cream and getting pieces of candy floss stuck to their noses.

Dad and I went down on to the beach and ate our fish and chips from a newspaper. I think it was the best fish and chips I ever tasted.

“That’s better.” said Dad.

“What?”

“You’re smiling, you’ve got a nice smile, you know. You should use it more often.”

“Oh Dad.”

“I’m just saying.”

And do you know what? I felt that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Just me and my Dad on the beach at Blackpool.

“It’s my fault.” he said, sadly.

“What is, Dad?”

“The fact that you never smile, me and your Mum left you sitting too long in that room of yours.”

“I like my room.”

“No one likes their room.”

Dad parked the caravan down some quiet side street and told me to get washed and ready as he took a walk into town. When he returned, his breath smelt of beer and his clothes of cigarettes.

“You’ll never guess what I’ve got in my pocket? Two tickets to see Arthur Askey at the Grand”

What a night that was, everyone laughing and singing along with The Bee Song. I looked over at my Dad and he was laughing so hard the tears were rolling down his face. God, I miss him.

We had ice cream topped with raspberry sauce on the way back and I never once thought about my misgivings, not once.

The next morning after a cup of tea and a bacon roll, we left Blackpool still singing the Bee Song, just me and my Dad.

I can’t remember who saw the old lady first. My Dad had stopped the car because I needed to pee again and I was hiding in the bushes. The woman was sitting on a bench and at first we thought she was just sleeping, but her head had rolled forwards and she was moaning. Dad put his ear close to listen to her breathing.

“This isn’t good. We’ll need to get her to hospital.”

I sat with her in the back seat of the car while she rested her head on my lap. She reminded me of my Gran, I almost said “We won’t be long now Gran” when she moaned really loudly. The nurse brought Dad and me drinks as we sat in the corridor waiting on news. It almost felt like it was my Gran.

“Are you family?”

Dad explained to the doctor that we had found her sitting by the side of the road.

“There was nothing we could do, I’m afraid. I’m sorry your trip was in vain. She passed away five minutes ago.”

Dad got a bit annoyed but he kept it to himself until we were outside the hospital. I thought maybe he was sad about the old lady dying, but really he was a bit angry.

“Don’t you ever believe that what we did was in vain, son. Never think that. That poor lady would have died alone on that bench if we hadn’t stopped. As it is, you kept her company and there were people with her when she went. So it wasn’t in vain. Nothing is in vain. Always, always remember that. Everything matters”

I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens to a person when they come out of their room.

As Dad drove south, I had the feeling that he just wanted to keep driving but as soon as it started to get dark, we stopped. Thinking back, I guess he couldn’t see too well in the dying light, something to do with his tumour.We set the caravan down in a field that overlooked Liverpool. What a city. Looking over the way the setting sun painted the building tops, a crimson yellow. We were going into town tomorrow and Dad said he had a surprise.

I don’t think I have ever been to a happier city than Liverpool that day. People were going to and fro but always laughing and joking. Some were singing, others whistling. I loved every minute of it; every blooming minute of it.

“I’ve got a pal and he owes me a favour”, said Dad. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t even known that my father had any friends or who they were.

“He works at a club down Matthew Street. He says if we arrive early enough, he’ll get us in and you can hide under my coat.”

I almost had misgivings again, almost wishing I was back in my safe, warm, bedroom – almost.

We did what Dad said and he put me under his coat and the doorman, his pal, waved us past all the people waiting to get in.

“We’ll need to keep you under cover young ‘un” said Bert, Dad’s pal, as he led me to a small room by the stairs where he gave me lemonade.

“We’ll come and get you when the band is ready” said my Dad. “I’m going to have a talk with Bert. You’ll be okay here?”

I would be.

I had just finished my drink when there was a knock at the door, followed by it opening.

“Hey Paul, look what I’ve found, the Cavern has little people living under the stairs. What are you doing here, son?”

I told him I was waiting on the band and that my Dad was coming to get me.

“And what band would that be son?”

I shrugged and the man seemed to find that funny. His pal, Paul came over to have a look at me.

“You’re right John, that is one of the little people. You’ve got to be lucky to see them” and then he rubbed my head.

John said it was his band that was playing and I said I was sorry. He said not as sorry as he was and asked did I want to come to their dressing room?  Although on second thoughts, John said, there was probably more room under the stairs.

So I went with John and Paul and met the other two, George and Pete. They were all fooling around and didn’t seem to be in any way nervous. John asked me what I wanted to do “That is, when you stop being one of the little people.”

I told him I wanted to be a writer and he said that was probably the best job in the world next to being in a band, especially his band, and he went into his jacket and gave me his pen.

“If anyone asks, tell them John Lennon gave it to you.”

That night I watched John, Paul, George and Pete play the most wonderful music I had ever heard or will ever hear. I didn’t know it then, but a few weeks later Ringo replaced Pete. I never got to meet him.

My Dad died, just after Christmas, that year.

He left me with the best present that I have ever received in my life. He took me out of my room and locked the door so I couldn’t go back in. So what if I got hurt? That was the price you paid for being out there, that was the price we all paid, and the other thing he gave me was the belief that nothing is ever in vain, nothing.

On the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I flew to New York and walked through Central Park and climbed the hill to Strawberry Fields. There was a little boy about ten and his Dad listening to the music of Lennon and I took out the pen and I handed it to them:

“John Lennon gave me this.”

Everything matters.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man Who Lived Twice

violin

There was a story from the early 1950s in Glasgow about Sammy; a man who used to play the violin. Sammy didn’t have a home but sometimes a kind soul would let him rest his head on their sofa or in their garden shed.

In those days people used to queue outside the movie theatres awaiting the start of the film, if it was a rainy night – and in Glasgow that was almost a certainty – people were cold and bored and this is where Sammy would find his audience. Up and down the queue he’d play, old ones, new ones, tunes from the War and tunes from the dance halls. Kind folks would throw a penny or two into Sammy’s hat; he’d nod with a thank you and move up the queue. Folks were glad to see old Sammy and it all felt part of their night’s entertainment.

When the building had swallowed up the audience for the last show, Sammy would tip the contents of his hat into his pocket and head off to the Coronation Café for a cup of tea and his first food of the day. On good days he might have a cake to follow. This particular day had been a good day and he’d made seven shillings and three pence. Two shillings of this would go into a box he kept hidden for the days when he didn’t feel too good and couldn’t make it to the cinema.

If he didn’t have anywhere rest his head that evening, Sammy liked nothing better than to sit in the café and talk with friends and strangers – about this and that and everything else in between.

Sammy had lots of favourite topics; one was about God and his place in the universe.

“There can only be two theories on the universe, either there is a God and all of this is a reflection of his personality, or this is a universe without a driver and it is all the more wonderful for that,” Sammy would say with a wicked glint in his eye.

But people didn’t really listen to an old man who played a violin in a cinema queue. I mean, what would someone like that know?

The other things Sammy liked to discuss were his belief that one day soon, “before I die,” he would say, “we will see man walking on the moon.” And the second, a big topic with him, was that television would quickly take over the world.

Friends and strangers would laugh at the outrageous things he said, after all he was an old tramp who knew nothing.

One night, one cold rainy night, when ironically the people were queuing to see Singing In The Rain, Sammy found that the queue was so large there was little room for him to move up and down, so he had to step on to the road and that was when it happened. When the number 59 bus hit Sammy full on.

Some folks thought he had died right there and then, but he’d only bumped his head on the way down and had passed out. Naturally they took him to hospital where he spent several comfortable and warm nights. It even went through Sammy’s head that perhaps he should make jumping in front of a bus a regular occurrence.

A big chief from the bus company came to see Sammy in the hospital probably just to see what the damage was.

“You shouldn’t have been on the road, you understand it was your fault,” said the big chief. But the truth of the matter was that some of the people in the queue said that Sammy had been pushed into the road and that the bus was going too fast, especially on a wet and windy night.

“So taking all factors into account, we have decided to give you this,” said the chief and handed Sammy a cheque for £150. Sammy asked if it was okay to have it in real money instead, as he didn’t have a bank account. The chief sent over his secretary with the money to the hospital the following night.

Between the money that Sammy had in his box and some of the money the bus company gave him, Sammy bought himself a little caravan and a place to put it. For the first time in many years he had a permanent roof over his head and some money to feed himself.

He didn’t waste the cash, instead he bought himself a rather smart suit from Woolworth and on the first night out he wore it, he noticed a big change in people. Folks walking along Argyll Street would say hello to him, or nod or wish him well. After all, he was a smart dressed man and so he had to be one of their own.

He decided to use some of his money and go and watch a concert of classical music in a big hall on Bath Street. It was love at first hearing and when he talked to some of the performers afterwards they suggested that if he loved to play the violin then why didn’t he come along to their rehearsals on a Thursday.

After the first Thursday he attended, Sammy was asked to join the orchestra and this made him happier than he had ever been before.

After practise, the gang, as Sammy called them, would go to a late night café bar and discuss this and that and everything in between. When Sammy told them about his thoughts on the universe and the Moon and television, they sit enthralled listening to this well dressed, talented man with so much genius in his head.

Wasn’t he the cleverest, most talented man they had every met?

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Vagabond Saints

stones

Where the sky welcomed the road at the far edge of town stood large monoliths of rock pointing straight at the stars; perhaps in an earlier time they had names of gods or demons but these days they were simply known at the Vagabond Saints.

My Grandfather had told me a story that they were the remnants of men who had idled too long at that point and who had been turned to stone by the forces who got annoyed by such things.

There was something peculiar about them – there always had been. They marked the boundary of the electric road, for it was known that if you switched off your car engine as you passed the Vagabond Saints the car would just keep on going.

Some said it was just a trick of the eye, that the land was actually going downhill at that point but the line of the horizon made a mind think otherwise. Other folks said it was where the underworld met the living and as such should be treated with reverence, and then there were those who laughed at such stories but who would run past at dark time when they were coming home from the bar and the beer was wearing off, taking away their protection.

I knew what they were, they were magic and that’s all I needed to know. One day when I was fishing at Gracey Hollow, I was in the process of pulling a trout out but if that fish didn’t want to fight to the very last. As I was easing the hook from its mouth, it gave one last fight and managed to drop back in the pool. The little creature ripped my finger open with the hook and the red of my blood was colouring the water.

I ripped a part of my shirt and wrapped it around the finger, praying that as long as God didn’t let my finger fall off , I would keep going to the church on a Sunday. As I got back to the border of town, I stopped to get some rocks out of my shoes. I rested my bleeding hand on the Vagabond Saints just to steady me like when all of a sudden a big beautiful warmth flooded through my body and the old bloody finger healed up. Like it was good as new.

I ripped the cloth off completely and sure enough there wasn’t a cut or a line or anything to say where the blood had come from. I got up and walked into town with a story in my head that I would be keeping to myself.

An autumn came and went, along with a winter and soon it was Spring again – the thing that happened at Vagabond Saints had been long forgotten. Until the day me and Jake who was my younger brother went into the Yellow Hills to try to see a wild cat. There wasn’t too much happening up in those hills so we called it a day a couple of hours before sundown.

As we descended Lawyer Pike, Jake slipped and I run to grab him but he fell a good 30 feet or more. My head flashed a million stories and none of them were good. I knew I was going to climb down there and find my only brother dead and gone. There were even crazy thoughts about how I was going to explain it to my parents. Like that mattered.

When I got there he was lying face down and moaning like he was somewhere else. I know that doesn’t make too much sense but that’s the way it felt that he wasn’t occupying his body at that time. I didn’t want to move him but it was going to get dark soon and the wild things would be sure to get him. So I flung him over my shoulder and I started to walk towards town hoping that I wasn’t causing too much damage even although he kept moaning.

At Vagabond Saints I sat for no more than a minute, as I lay Jake to rest a while. The funny thing was, he wasn’t moaning as much and that didn’t feel good to me. The next thing I must have fallen asleep and suddenly I was being slapped on the face and someone’s calling “Wake up”. It was Jake saying he was cold and that we’d better get a move on.

I told him I was sure he must be dying and he shouted “Not today, brother, not today”.

On the way back home we talked and talked and Jake felt that he’d just been winded, nothing more.

Life took me away from the town and from the Vagabond Saints, the way it does with everyone. I got a job at the other end of the country and I met someone, we settled down and raised a family.

Then one day the world opened up and swallowed my whole, my son, my love, the apple of my eye was sick. I would have laid my life down there and then if it would take away his pain but there seemed to be nothing that I or anyone could do. They were talking a few months at most, so you’re already ahead of me here, I guess. I took my boy to my home town. I pushed him in a wheel chair around the streets, showing him where I grew up and where I skinned my knees and then we finally stopped at the Vagabond Saints and I told him to touch the stones and he did and he smiled.

From that moment on, he just kept getting stronger and stronger. The doctors thought it was a miracle but I knew better, I knew he’d been cured by the Vagabond Stones. Then I began to wonder what do you do with something like that? Do I tell every sick kid in the area? Do I go to the press or the television people?

My boy and his girl came back to town a few years later to get married – he just loved the place although we never talked about the rocks. One balmy night, a few days after the wedding I went walking out to the stones, alone. There was a clear sky and a bright moon and I felt as if I could have walked forever.

I touched the stones just to say thanks and that was when the pain shot up my left arm, followed by a massive pressure in my chest, then my legs crumpled from under me as I got ready to say goodbye.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Rockets

grannycopterxx

My name is Annie and when I was nine I didn’t have too many friends except my Grandmother who always wanted to be an astronaut.

She said that my Mother had come along and put an end to that dream, thank you very much for asking – but I hadn’t asked.

I didn’t quite understand how or why my Mother had stopped her being an astronaut but my Grandmother was not one to talk crazy like, so I went along with her story. It had something to do with my Granddad turning my Grandmother’s head with all that kissing nonsense and such like and her being in the family way, thank you very much.

It didn’t stop me and her always talking about being astronauts and we would look at the maps of the sky and choose which of the planets we would visit first. My Grandmother was going to Jupiter and I was very definitely a Saturn girl.

When I was nine I used to think that my Grandmother smelt a bit funny which I thought was because she was in training and eating special astronaut food.

One evening, when I was safely sitting on her knee and after she had put a large log on the fire, she told me how she had always dreamed of going to the stars.

“One November afternoon my parents, your great Grandparents Annie, took my brother and me to see a film at a little tea room down Duchess Street, mind you that street’s all gone now, got bombed in the war and they had to pull the whole lot down.

“By day it sold the most wonderful cakes in the world but in the evening, well then it became a wonderland. Mister Guitolli would hang a white sheet on the wall and then show films from a projector which he turned by hand. He never charged anyone a farthing but at the interval Mrs Guitolli would sell some of that day’s stale cakes for a half penny each.

“Sometimes, if he had a hard day, he would turn the projector very slowly and every one would stamp their feet to get him to speed up. Sometimes he would just fall asleep and the film would stop, then smoke would start rising from the projector and people would run out of the cake shop, screaming. They knew it wasn’t a real fire but to us it was the only chance we ever got to scream in front of grown-ups.

“On the days that Mrs Guitolli was in a good mood and kissed Mister Guitolli on the cheek in front of everyone, well those were the days that the people in the films would move very fast as Mister Guitolli wanted to finish early. My Mother never did tell me why he was in so much of a hurry.” Then my Grandmother coughed, cleared her throat and continued.

“One day Annie I saw the most marvellous film, The Journey to The Moon, the one where the rocket lands right in the eye of the Moon’s face. Everyone was laughing but I felt sorry for the Moon and made up my mind that I would go there and apologise for what had happened to his eye.”

Sadly nothing much happened to my Grandmother and her dream for many, many years, not until the very day of her fiftieth birthday on April the 12th, 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

My Grandmother decided two things that day: 1 – fifty was no age, no age at all, and fifty year old people could still go to the Moon and 2 – if anything happened to Granddad, God forbid, she would marry Yuri. There was a time when she more inclined to John Glenn, the first American in space than Yuri, but in the end the Russian won her heart. He was her first Cosmonaut and that was that.

My Grandmother said that every day she would check the newspapers looking for an advert that would state ‘Have you ever considered being an Astronaut or Cosmonaut? Then telephone the following number …..” but she never did find it, “Must have been on one of the days I didn’t buy a newspaper.”  she said.

She always wondered, considering the amount of people she had told about her dream, why the rocket folks hadn’t actually contacted her. “I mean”, she said “wouldn’t it be better having a really enthusiastic astronaut than a reluctant one?”

She even wrote to the Russian Embassy who invited her to tea one afternoon and told her that the waiting list to be a cosmonaut was so long that she would be a hundred and twenty years old by the time they got to her. She had to agree that one hundred and twenty was a good age but mentioned that if her name did come up, then could they contact her anyway? The man said he’d put her name down on the list straight away and sent her home with a signed photo of Yuri that said ‘To my comrade’.

Apollo Eight was the next big milestone in my Grandmother’s life and that was the one that got me interested.

In March of ’68 Yuri died in a tragic accident and my Grandmother went into a mild sort of mourning. Other people were twisting to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones but my Grandmother had all the heroes she needed in one man and now he was gone. My Grandfather used to be jealous of a person he had never met and would refer to him as ‘that bloody communist’ but after Yuri Gagarin’s death, and I’m ashamed to say it, my Grandfather started to whistle. It led me to wonder if he hadn’t had Yuri bumped off.

My Grandmother gave me a poster of the crew of Apollo Eight to hang on my wall, I still remember their names: the commander was Frank F Borman the 2nd, James A Lovell Junior was the Command Module Pilot and William A Anders, the Lunar Module Pilot.

I always wondered what happened to Frank Borman, the 1st and James Lovell Senior, were they lost in space somewhere?

In those days, the launching of a rocket was the most important thing in the world – at least to me. Every television channel would cover it and very clever people with extremely large foreheads would discuss it for hours on end. We would sit with bowls of popcorn and devour every delicious second of the programmes and when the talking got boring, Grandmother would test me on all the people who had ever been in space.

We had a happy Christmas and we made it extra so, because my Father was off to Singapore in the New Year to work for several months. My Mother and I moved in with Grandmother in order to provide company for us all and I was more than delighted.

Apollo 9 was a bit of a strange one and never really went anywhere, there was lots of talk of trying out modules but to be really cross-my-heart-honest, I found it boring.

The next trip was really exciting, the guys were going to go to the Moon and try everything except land. I thought it was a shame and so did my Grandmother “Why couldn’t they just let them land on the Moon for five minutes?” she said, but it wasn’t to be and they all had to come home again.

In July 1969, me, my Mother and my Grandmother all went out to Singapore to see my Father and we had the best time ever. It was a truly amazing place and it was there we got to see Neil Armstrong on television, not just land on the Moon but actually walk on it. It was brilliant.

My Grandmother and I sat there holding our breaths as Commander Neil put his foot on the Moon’s surface. My Father said he thought that his foot would go right through and he’d get stuck but then I caught him winking at my Mother – my Father, not Neil Armstrong.

I remember the day I asked my Grandmother who the first man to walk on the Moon was and she said “where dear?” and I have to tell you, I thought that was a funny thing to say. “Too late” I said, “It was Neil Armstrong”.

“Who dear?”

Then I heard she’d fallen down the stairs which I was sure was due to her Astronaut training. She was very hard on herself.

She never did tell me she was going to Astronaut Training Camp, my Father did. I asked him whether my Grandmother had found the advert in the paper and he said that she had and that they had accepted her. So I was pleased but I really wished she had told me herself.

Then one day my Father looked really sad and told me that I had to be brave and I said I was. He said that his Mother, my Grandmother, had gone to live on the Moon and I said stop talking crazy like as Apollo Twelve wasn’t due to take off for some months. He told me that she had been sent on a secret mission and that I was to tell no one. I never did.

When I was nine years of age my Grandmother went to the Moon and didn’t come back.

She will soon and I bet she’s building a rocket even now.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and Flyin’

kids.gif

The first time that me and Buzz attempted to fly, Buzz broke his arm in two places: in the yard and on the driveway. Yeh, Buzz didn’t think that joke was funny either. Now you’re going back to read it again in case you missed something ‘cause you didn’t think it was so funny.

The truth of the matter is that Buzz’s arm was good and busted all because he tried to fly from the roof of my house to the roof of Mister Huckerby’s.

Mister H was the man who ate children or so the story went. We’d tried to have a look in his windows but he always kept all his curtains closed except for the attic windows and they were too high to get at, unless you got on to his roof.

“I know what I’ll do, I’ll fly” was Buzz’s suggestion, with a real proud look on his face. He had thought of it all by himself.

“You’ll fly to the top of Mister H’s house?”

“Yep!”

“What you gonna use, a jet pack?”

“Nope, I’ve already thought of this. I’ll find a place that’s higher than the Child-eater’s and I glide over and land on his roof.”

If Buzz really thought about this all by himself then I’m sure the world is coming to an end or he ain’t tellin’ the whole truth. He’s probably seen the whole thing on Scooby Doo or something.

There never was any proof that Mister H was actually eating any kids on account that no one had disappeared or anything but that didn’t stop the stories. You know how it is? You get the rep for eating kids and it just doesn’t go away. I mean Buzz has got a rep for being really stupid but I have to tell you, he worked really hard at that rep and deserves it.

I’m making this all sound as if Buzz had come up with an idea that was as reliable as the day is long. To be honest he had several other really bad ideas. Last Easter, he tried to climb up the pipes to Mister H’s roof but there was a bird’s nest about three-quarter ways up and those little kiddy birds started peckin’ at Buzz’s face. You know Buzz hates anyone touchin’ his face so he tried to shoo them away and that’s when he let go. Luckily he fell into a bush and didn’t do any real damage although the pipe was hanging at a weird angle.

Around June time, Buzz tried to lasso a rope around one of Mister H’s chimneys. He got the rope on to one of the corner ones – the kind that crash to the ground real hard when you pull on them, especially with a boy and a rope hanging off them.

You could say Buzz escaped with his life, which is more than can be said for Mister Huckerby’s pride and joy, his car. It was all smashed up. I think he thinks that the street was hit with a tornado that day.

I guess I never really asked Buzz until just now what he was going to do when he landed on the roof. Was he gonna rescue the kids? Or what?

“I’m gonna look in that attic window.”

“Then what?”

“Not sure.”

Buzz strapped a kite to each arm and he reckoned this was gonna let him glide from our roof and across the street.

“Even if you do make his roof Buzz, how are you gonna get down?”

“Fly.”

Ain’t it just dandy how the world and even the laws of physics belong to the really stupid?

“Fine” I said, but by which I meant so many other things.

Buzz wanted me to stand at the front of my house when he did eventually jump. I’ve no idea what he expected me to do – catch him?

“You can help me…” he shouted.

“Navigate?” I shouted back.

“Give me directions” he shouted.

Then Buzz stood at the edge of the roof and started flappin’ his arms and I tell you, I nearly let some pee out, I laughed so hard. He just looked completely stupid. Like a bird that had its behind set alight.

He counted down and shouted that I should count with him.

“10,9,8….” He was still flappin’ and I was still keeping my legs crossed in case I pee’d again.

Then we got to zero and he jumped and what do ya know? He kinda glided, not as far as Mister H’s roof but to the tree in front of his house. That was where Buzz got stuck until we called the fire engine folks over at Toolaville. I think some of them tried to stop from laughing as well. I could see tears running down the Chief’s face.

It took us about 3 hours to free him and his wings and he was fine – surprisingly.

As for the broken arm, it was as he crossed the street and into my driveway that he stood on the skateboard and that’s when it happened. He broke his arm on the drive way, got up and then stood on the skateboard again and broke his arm again in my yard.

I swear to the almighty I had to run all the way to the toilet as I nearly pee’d myself again, what with all that laughin’.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

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The House of Laughter and Crying

East-Wind-over-Weehawken

Now I ain’t saying this story is true, but I ain’t saying it’s a lie neither – mainly ‘cause I don’t want to be sued by any of you folks out there. I am just saying that it is, what it is. If you push me on it, I’ll just have to say that it’s the rabid memory of an old man, and leave it at that.

So let me start the story by telling you about the house.

From the outside, it weren’t nothing special, just a little old place built in the early 1820s to show the folks of the town just how well, Samuel P. Northbody was doing in his business. However, Samuel spent so long accruing money that he never got to finding love (except the love of the dollar, that is) and so the house fell into disrepair for a time when Mr. Northbody went to where rich people go after they die. I heard some folks say that place was New Jersey, but I’m thinking that’s just plain cruel.

Apart from the occasional snake, the house wasn’t visited by anything or anyone in particular until a crowd of soldiers hid in the house for two weeks. That would be during the Civil War of these United States when brother fought brother.

Now I ain’t too sure if the soldiers were Northerners returning home, or Southerners going in the opposite direction, but whoever they were, they took to hiding while the other side was camped right outside – I kid you not. How they never got caught,well only the big man in the sky knows the answer to that. Folks only found out they’d been there, ‘cause one of the soldiers (and by soldier, I mean a fifteen-year-old boy) had left a notebook behind.

Now here’s where things start to take a crazy turn. It was said that John Wilkes Booth hid out in the house after he shot (and killed) President Lincoln. Booth had broken his leg when jumping from Lincoln’s box at the theatre on to the stage. Booth then got some help from a Doctor Mudd, who never told the authorities about the killer’s whereabouts. I reckon that’s why some folks say ‘your name is Mudd’, even to these days.

Apparently Booth hid in the house for three days and nights, while the army folks were looking up and down the land trying to catch him.

I thinking that maybe there is something about this house that makes it a sanctuary for a person – and not necessarily for the good souls, either.

But the story I want to tell you is a lot later than that last one. This story took place in the late 1970s, when I was living in the house after it became a sort of hotel. It was known, locally, as Mrs Johnstone Home for Businessmen (guess she wasn’t thinking there might be business women too). We folks around here had always known it as the ‘House of Laughter and Crying’, and I ain’t exactly sure why that was.

I had been helping out my uncle build a barn, a big one out by the creek, and earning some money before I went off to college. My uncle was sleeping under the sky and my Ma, thought it better if I slept in a real bed every night, so that’s how I came to be at Mrs Johnstone’s.

But it was the man who lived in room 7, on the top floor, who used to get my curiosity excited. He never mixed with the other guests (even although sometimes that would only be me). He ate in his room, and I never really saw him coming or going.

I could tell by the way as he passed my room, and rubbed against the wall outside that he was a large built man. Probably ‘fat’ would have been a better description.

He would sometimes sing to himself as he left to go to the kitchen, or on his return to his room, and I could swear to you that it was…………………now I know this sounds real stupid like, but it sounded to me like someone impersonating Elvis.

He was real good at it, too. You’d almost think it was him. One night after I heard him singing his way to the kitchen, I hid in the cleaner’s store at the end of the corridor ‘cause I knew that if I opened the door a little I would be able to see his face.

I waited and waited. Man, it was a long time, but then I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. I heard him walk along the corridor and so I pushed the door a little, but that was when the brushes fell on top of me, which made me let out a yell and fell out the door.

I landed at the feet of the man, and I swear to you when I looked up it was………Elvis.

Elvis himself, as I live and breathe. Now remember that this is in the year 1978 and the man was apparently long dead. So if it was him – I have to ask myself, what was he doing in a little house on the corner of a street, in a little town? If it wasn’t him, then I have to apologise for all the craziness that I’ve put down on these pages.

But I swear to you, on my Grandma’s Bible, that I’m sure it was him.

The man stepped over me and continued upstairs, singing. I knew, that he knew that I knew who he was, and it so it came as no surprise, that when I went up to knock his door in the morning – the door swung open and the room was empty.

“Checked out, real early. Around 5am,” said Mrs Johnstone.

There you have it – not much of a story, I grant you, but it’s had me thinking all these years.

I’ll leave it with you, and you can make of it what you will.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Choodla: London Secrets

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The Start

What can I say about Choodla, that hasn’t already been said over and over again by the newspapers, the television, the judges, the police, the weird man who lives on everyone’s street, my family, my pet dog? Nothing – that’s what, nothing except I’m Choodla and no one except me can say that.

I’ve watched those stupid movies about superheroes (okay they aren’t that stupid) and then I’ve watched those stupid movies about vigilantes (okay, those aren’t that stupid either) and that is when I decided to……no, I think I’m jumping ahead here. Let’s go back to the start. Kind of.

Once upon a time, a pre-Choodla time, I was just your usual kid with dreams and stuff. Well except I was too lazy for the dreams and didn’t have enough cash for the stuff – so basically I was just a kid.  The trouble was that all those little traits followed me into adulthood. I mean I did my best to grow up – ended up over six feet tall – but those pesky little things like laziness kind of came with me. Boy that really pee’d me off but what’s a guy to do?

I had a job, or at least I had people who came and gave me money to sit in an office and work with dumb folks and dream of being somewhere else. Except you get to like the money and tell yourself you’re only staying until the storm passes over and then you’ll move on. Except you don’t – or at least it looked as if I was welded to that desk in my office – until the day they said they were rationalizing the structure of the office, and that meant I was on the street.

So now I don’t have a job but at least I don’t have to listen to dumb folks anymore and that to me was a big tick. Except I don’t have any stupid people to hand me money, so I have to do what I have always done and that is to play my guitar in the street and hope folks throw coins at me. I should have said ‘to me’ but it was more often than not ‘at me’. Hey, you get to find out that everyone’s a judge these days.

So I was playing ‘American Pie’ on my guitar for the good folks of this big city for the twentieth time that day and I still only had a few coins in the hat (ones I put there myself). When a little old man came crawling out of a side door – called himself McCafferty and said he was having a party and would I like to come. Okay, you’re thinking what I’m thinking that this man is a serial killer and probably got a bed, some tape, rope and a collection of knives to torture me slowly but I thought, being the victim of serial killing has got to be preferable to playing ‘American Pie’ one more time. You think I’m joking, you try it.

Anyway I collected my coins and hat and followed him down through a door which seemed to go down to an old unused Underground Station. Down in the old platform, of the old station (it was old) was a collection of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells that you would ever wish (or not) to meet.  McCafferty introduced me as ‘that geezer who won’t stop playing that song’ and everyone knew who he meant.

The leader wasn’t McCafferty but a big bloke called Andrew who shook my hand and asked if I thought that they we were just a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. I said that nothing could be further from the truth, and that indeed they looked like an upstanding bunch of gentlemen …”and ladies” shouted a collection of overcoats in the corner.
Once you got over the smell, they did indeed seem interesting. One gentleman had been a professor of economics in a prestigious university but had fallen on hard times when they’d found the bank accounts.

“A mere oversight,” he said, and he hoped to re-join the world above any day soon.

Another had been something in Westminster until they caught him and he too was only waiting down here for things to get better.
The one they called ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and who was married to whatever existed under the collection of coats had once been a star of stage and screen until he too was found to be wanting in some area or another.
They asked me what my story was and I had to be honest and say that I had just been fired from my job. As such I had probably some way to go to be as esteemed as the collection in front of me.

“Tish and tosh,” said Jumping Jack, “You look like you have a few secrets to tell.”
Apart from stealing a coin from my Grandmother’s purse I had been pretty quiet on the dishonesty side.

“We shall prise it out of you, young musician person, prise it we shall.”
I must say he looked as if he meant it, every word and that perhaps ‘prising’ meant using some instrument or other.
An extremely smelly old man said that there was one rule down here and that was ‘share and share alike’ and suddenly a giant of a man grabbed me by the ankles and held me upside down while the little coins that I had, fell out of my pocket. All of those miscreants were on those coins like rats.

When they had taken everything and anything, they said the time had arrived for me to be named. I told them quite rightly that I had a name but they said that was a name for use above, I needed one for down here in the Underground. A few of them huddled in a corner and every so often they would stop talking, look at me in a very weird way then shake their heads and go back to talking.

After what seemed a blooming eternity (enough time to sing American Pie fifty times) they came over to me and told me to kneel.
I did so hoping that whatever happened would be quick –

“Old Creature here has come up with a name and you are to be called ‘Choodla’ from now on.”

I asked why Choodla as it sounded kind of weird.
The one they called Creature said, “It is the greatest name that anyone down here can be called. It is after the Underground station we stand in.”
I said I didn’t know any stations new or old called Choodla.

“No dear boy, it is Aldwych – that is the station in which we reside. One that was closed years and years ago. And if you spell it backwards – Chywdla (well nearly backwards) you get Choodla. That sir is your name from now on.”

So here I am stuck in an Underground station in London with a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells and you’re asking how do I become a superhero?  Well you’ll just have to wait and see.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Private War of Bobby Falkirk

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Which war he went to (and came back from), isn’t important here, it’s just important to know that Bobby came back in one piece – well almost. His head was intact, as was his body – but it was a plain and simple fact that his brain and heart didn’t really communicate that well with each other. Whose does?

Ever since he was old enough to climb trees, Bobby had always wanted to be a soldier. In Bobby’s world branches became rifles, and clumps of grass tied to his head made him invisible to the enemy. He used to invade Mister Elder’s garden on a weekly basis. Mister Elder threatened to go to the police, but nothing ever came of it and Bobby kept on invading and taking Mister Elder’s flower beds prisoner.

Every morning Bobby would ask his mother if he was old enough to join the army, and every morning she would say the same things – ‘not long now’ or ‘when you’re a little taller’. Bobby even hung upside down from trees, for hours, just to make himself that little bit taller.

As he grew up and older, Bobby could see his mother looking sadder – she knew the time was fast approaching when he son would be off to wars overseas.

Bobby had waited, as he had promised, until he was 18 years of age before he attempted to join the army. At that age he was over six-foot tall and built like a champion fighter. Bobby didn’t care if the world was ready for him, Bobby was most definitely ready to take on the world.

In all, Bobby spent ten years in the army and in that time, he saw many places, many cultures, and just as many ways to kill a man. His eyes grew tired and weary of the stench of death, and his heart grew cold and hard. By the time Bobby returned to his home, he felt like a man who belonged to no particular place. Something of himself had been destroyed and buried in those far-off lands and it made him confused, as a result.

In the ten years spent in the army his parents had died, leaving Bobby to feel that he was an orphan. He had a family while he was in the army – he had never been closer or felt more of sense of belonging than those army years, but friends had died in battle or had left.

For the first time in his life, Bobby felt totally alone. In his younger years, Bobby would sometimes travel with his uncle (really a kindly neighbour) up to St Pancras station and hotel on Euston Road. It had been falling apart for many years, but while his uncle worked on the railways, Bobby would explore the old buildings and the old hotel.

In the highest tower (and for reasons you will understand later, I am saying no more than that) Bobby found an empty room, full of cobwebs and rats. At each visit, Bobby would smuggle in little objects, pieces of wood (from which he built a seat), and some things to eat and drink. Over the next few years, it became Bobby’s home away from home. One weekend, when his uncle was taken unwell, Bobby sneaked up to the railway station and managed to get up to his den in the highest tower, unseen. He had always remembered this.

On his return from his war, Bobby had found himself with nowhere to call home, or even rest his head. It was then that he thought of his little room and wondered if it had been discovered during his absence, or if it indeed remained intact.

The station and the hotel had been transformed since last he had seen the place, and the chances didn’t look good for his den’s survival. Even the back stairs had been repainted and lit in electric light, but as he got to where the door was to his room, he found a brick wall. The entrance had been blocked.

The window to the left of the door was still in place and Bobby found he could still open it. The ledge was there and Bobby clung on to the guttering as he walked, carefully up the roof. The window to his den was still there and he managed to prise it open.

Would you believe it? Bobby’s den was still there, untouched, if a little unloved. The builders must have blocked the door and ignored the highest room in the tower. All his survival/army gear was there – even his little notebooks where he recorded all his height changes as he grew.

That night Bobby slept well, just like did when he was a kid. Tomorrow could look after itself.

It took him a minute or two to realise where he was when he awoke, as the sun shone through the window of his little room. When Bobby was ready, he went on a little walk of discovery and found that there was three other rooms next to his which had also been bricked off from the rest of the building. That was when the thought hit him – it would be possible to live up here, as long as he could come and go unseen.

He only had a little money, enough to keep him going for two or three weeks at most, and if he left the building in the dark then he should be able to survive for a while.

That first day, he ate what was left of the sandwich he had stuffed in his pocket. From up there, the highest room on Euston Road, he could see the world go by and the office workers impatiently watching the clocks on their walls. Bobby’s medication wouldn’t last more than a month or two. The army had handed him some tablets to keep his confusion under control, but in the end the self-control was down to him.

Bobby waited until past midnight before he made the walk down the ledge. He could hear the city screaming and shouting from the streets below; people with families and lives. People without the confusion that had swamped his thoughts. Would he love to be down there and normal? The thought didn’t last long as a breeze blew up and nearly knocked him from the roof. He managed to catch on to the guttering at the last moment. In that split second, he had imagined the newspaper report – ‘soldier returns from war and jumps from roof’. Bobby didn’t want that.

Bobby made it down to Euston Road and started towards Kings Cross. He went into the station and bought some chocolate to keep him going. Bobby was walking to nowhere in particular when, from the corner of his eye and across the street, he noticed a young woman being pushed about by three men. She looked to be in trouble. Bobby sped across the road.

Bobby shouted at the men. “Leave the girl alone.”
“Says who?” Asked one of the men. The one with a scar across his nose.
“Says me,” Bobby shouted back.
“Get him lads,” shouted the fat one.

At that point the three of the men threw the girl aside, making her bump her head against the wall.
It was easy for Bobby, he was fit and ready for them. He knocked two of their heads, literally together. One sparked out and one ran away. The one with the scar stood his ground and grabbed the girl by the neck.

“One move and she gets it,” he said with the girl blocking him from Bobby’s fists. Bobby rolled into a ball then quickly knocked away the man’s legs, Bobby managing to catch the girl as she was released.

Bobby stood and dragged the man by the ankles into a small lane. Bobby picked the man up and chucked him in a dump. Then Bobby returned to make sure the girl was okay.

She seemed to be okay and he found out her name was Elizabeth. She had no money, so Bobby went back and emptied the man in the dump’s wallet. He handed the money to the girl, taking her to a place where she could catch a cab. She asked his name, he told her it wasn’t important and then put her in a taxi.

Bobby could hear the station clock strike two in the morning, as he edged his way back to his den in the sky.

As he lay trying to sleep that night, Bobby wondered if everything happened for a reason. Maybe being a soldier and fighting the bad on the streets of London was why he had been put on this Earth.

Bobby, the hero? There was still a grin on his face as he fell asleep.

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Last House on the Island

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My family used to live on an island, except it ain’t there anymore. Now I don’t mean my family – they’re all kicking and rocking in other places. I mean the island disappeared. Sunk.

Way, way back, in the 1600s, my family came over to the New World, and my great-great-great-great (you get the picture, it was a long time ago) grandfather saw this little island in Chesapeake Bay and said that was as far as he was going. Now from what I hear tell, everyone was saying to him that the mainland was only over the bay and then they’d be home and dry (so to speak). But he wasn’t having none of it – he said that he was staying right there on the island and no one, not even the good Lord himself was gonna move him.

That’s how my family came to live on the little island in the bay. Within a few years, some of the folks from the mainland came over because of all the fighting with the Injuns – and they settled and soon there was a few good farms on that island. The folks didn’t really need for anything.

Things went good until the Brits showed up. Said that the American people were getting a bit too high and mighty for the King’s liking, and what with not paying taxes and stuff – well we had it coming to us. My family told them that we’d all come from over there, but that wasn’t good enough for them and they burned all the houses down, arrested the kith and kin and put them in a prison in Charleston, South Carolina.

When the Redcoats got sent packing, my family moved back there and started all over again. When the Brits came back to burn down Washington DC in the early 1800s, my family were ready for them and turned them back. This time our houses stayed standing.

During the two great wars there were soldiers and marines stationed on the island just in case some foreigner should try to make it up the Potomac and get the President.

No one ever came.

And all went well right through that century, until the floods came. The sea-level started rising and the houses started getting flooded real bad. One by one, as the water level rose, folks took their families and their farming to higher places, like West Virginia.

We stayed – ours was the last house on the island. The very last.

As my family died off, they had to bury them over on the mainland, but me, I refused to go. I sat at the window of my old place and looked out on the bay that we all loved and cared for. Except it was coming to take back its own.

I’m writing this in the house and they say they are coming to tear it down tomorrow. I’m only hoping that the good Lord sees fit to take me while my home is still here.

Yours, John Wakefield, Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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On The Right Tracks

june 7 post Patient_Feeling_Better

There is a little railway station just north of somewhere and to the east of that other place. And one time in your life, you’ll either have stood waiting on a train there or will have passed through it, I promise you.

The station wasn’t anything special, it just helped people get into the city and received their tired bodies at the end of the day. It had been built in the 1850’s and judging by the architecture, it was a statement to a country with an empire. But things change, and empires fall, and now the station just had a ticket office and a toilet.

It wasn’t small enough that people talked to each other, nor was it big enough to get lost in – it was a station of an awkward size, where people saw the same folks everyday but were standing too far away to communicate. And  so life went on as it always does.

Then one cold November, just after that thing that happened, but just before that other thing was about to occur, Jonathon Nasby came to the station as the Station Manager. Okay, all he did was sell tickets and clean the toilet but that wasn’t going to stop Jonathon – who had once dreamt he was going to be an astronaut or failing that, regenerate into Doctor Who.

At first, Jonathon (who had never been actually told to his face, that life was hard) started singing as he sold the tickets. There were those (as there are always ‘those’) who found the humming and singing a distraction, but for most, it was a little break from the hum-drum of travelling to work.

Then Jonathon started to sing as he announced what trains were going where and the ones which weren’t coming. A few faces would crack a smile while standing on the platform and possibly, one or two would forget about their troubles for a few minutes.

It wasn’t long before Jonathon was telling little stories for the folks who stood, waiting:   about how he had got the job, how he had never been picked for sports’ teams at school and how, despite everything, he felt that a Station Manager was a brilliant job and he wanted to thank everyone who had helped him.

One or two of those waiting broke into applause, and like an Oscar speech, Jonathon decided to thank everyone in his life. One morning, a note was left at the ticket office which just said ‘thank you’ and Jonathon felt that was the best note he had ever been given in his life.

In between the songs, the selling of the tickets, the cleaning of the toilet, and the little speeches, Jonathon started to write his own little stories.

One snowy day when everyone was generally feeling miserable he made this announcement:

“Good day my fellow travellers, I want you to think about your problems. I guess most of you are standing there thinking of them anyway. Now, in your head, give your problems away to someone in the station and you take their problems. Swap yours for theirs. And I know you’ve probably heard it before but I, reckon that if you could really see all their problems, you’d be screaming for your own back.”

Then Jonathon broke into his version of Bohemian Rhapsody (doing all the voices). The station became so popular that people started to change stations and leave from Jonathon’s because it made their day. It got so crowded that sometimes there wasn’t room to move.

The big chiefs on the Railway Board decided to investigate and discovered that Jonathon’s spirit and outlook was just what they needed at one of the big city stations. Soon he started to run the Jonathon Nasby School for Railway Enhancement and Entertainment.Jonathon realised that all people really wanted was someone to tell them that they were okay.

Jonathon is the Prime Minister now and of course broadcasts a song to the entire country every morning. Today the song was the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and folks in every city, town and hamlet were heard to sing along with him.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Life

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Like every other day, Harry spent his mornings in the park in that little period between breakfast and lunch. He’d sit and watch the animals and the humans, and normally chuckle to himself. One sunny morning, Harry noticed a flash of light from under a bench a few feet away.

When he picked it up, he found it was a coin. Harry decided to buy some bird food to feed a little pigeon that was always out on its own and which looked as if it never got fed.

After the little pigeon overfed itself, it flew across the pond and over the road, where it deposited a little message on the windscreen of a car that was driving past.

Eddie liked everything just so in his life and the bird droppings on his shiny car windscreen were annoying him, so he stopped his car by a stream to get some water to clean the window. And that was where he found the ‘phone lying in the tall grass and so, after he had cleaned the car, he drove to the police and gave them the lost property.

The police contacted the owner, a Mrs Sweeney who was over-the-moon at finding her ‘phone as this was the one she used to call her son who was serving in Afghanistan. Her son, Sergeant Oliver Sweeney was lifted by the call from his mother and that morning after the call, he went out and saved the life of his best friend, Joshua.

Joshua wrote that evening to his wife to tell her how much he loved her and then reluctantly told her of how his best pal in all the world had saved his life.

Joshua’s wife, Amy, was so excited by the letter from her husband that when she went into school the next day, she gave every one of her young pupils a gold star on their exercises.

Olivia, whose teacher was Mrs Amy Sweeney and who had given Olivia a gold star, couldn’t wait to show her granddad, Harry what she had achieved, as soon as he returned from his morning walk in the park.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Love Story: Zeppelins Over America

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Elizabeth’s Story

It had only been a day since my world had changed.

I sat by the window, opening it a little. The cold air of the lounge was refreshing after the stale air of the cabin. It had been slightly more than a day since I’d left Los Angeles.

A lot of peoples’ lives had changed – after all nineteen twenty-nine was a year of changes, a year when the world turned upside down for so many. A year when broken souls jumped from city buildings, when money was lost and scattered to the four winds; I was one of the lucky ones, my family had money.

We came from a little town on the river Hudson in New York State, a place where many influential folks had put down roots. Sure, we all made money in the city but we spent it in the country. We’d been there as a family since 1777. We were the elite, the privately schooled, Harvard educated elite and didn’t we know it.

Papa had felt I was becoming bored at home and had sent me on a trip around the world, primarily, I guessed, to meet a future husband.

I had done as my father had wished and travelled the world but I had done so in a matter of days on the newest mode of transport, an airship, the Graf Zeppelin. I was in Germany by the time Papa had found out, naturally he’d sent someone from the American Embassy to intercept me but to no avail, when I didn’t want to be found I could disappear.

I had flown the Atlantic, over Europe, taken in the vastness of the Siberian wastelands, spent a wonderful time in Japan and then crossed the Pacific Ocean. I was on top of the world in every sense.

I’d first met Samuel in Berlin where he was working for an American bank and was mainly involved in investments.

“Money, my dearest, is what I am all about.”

I can’t remember when he started calling me my dearest but I do

believe it wasn’t long after we met.

My current thoughts were interrupted by a steward bringing me a welcome cup of coffee. The service aboard the airship was done with all the usual German efficiency and style. I took a moment to look below, there lay the vast plains of America and even at this height I could smell the wheat fields. I would recommend a flight in an airship to anyone. It is both thrilling and breathtaking. If I have to grumble, and it is only a small one, it is the fact that there is a strict no smoking rule. Something to do with the explosive gas we have on board.

But, as I say, it is only a tiniest of complaints.

After our crossing from New York to Berlin, the airship was taken into the hanger for a complete inspection and repair before we set out to take on the rest of the world. That was when I fell in love with Samuel and him with me. It was an easy place to fall in love, Berlin and Samuel was an easy person to love.

When it was time for me to leave, Samuel and I had already made plans for us to meet up in New York for the holidays. So it was a complete surprise when we landed in Los Angeles that I found there was a telegram awaiting me in my hotel along with a package. The telegram said only ‘Please marry me, love Samuel’ and the package contained a diamond engagement ring sent from a Los Angeles’ jewellers. There was a note with the ring that said ‘don’t give me an answer until we meet in December’.

I had to have another look at the ring. I had tried it on my finger in the privacy of the cabin but I would not wear it publicly until Samuel placed it on my finger, himself. And, yes, of course I was going to say ‘yes’.

There must have been a gust of wind as the steward opened the lounge door from the corridor, because, all of a sudden, the diamond ring, still in its box, blew out of the window and dropped to the earth below.

Joshua and Jennifer’s Story

They had never spent that long away from each other’s company. Josh was nineteen and so was the love of his heart, Jen. They had grown up next to each other, gone to school together and now they both worked in Mister Finnegan’s grocery store. Josh was the floor manager and this meant that he enjoyed talking to folks whereas Jen was the accountant. At least, that’s what Mister Finnegan called her. Mainly, she just counted the money and put it in jute bags. Mister Finnegan was the one to take it to the bank as he trusted no one in this life.

“Don’t take on so, it ain’t personal, it’s just I’ve been burned too many times.”

So he had – and too many times to go into any detail here – but let’s just say that he had just cause for his stubborn attitude.

One warm and balmy September afternoon, Josh’s father’s entered the store. Now Josh knew exactly what that meant, his father had just been released from jail in Montrose County and was looking for money.

“I know what you’re thinking boy and you’d be wrong, I ain’t looking for money and don’t go think I am. I’m just here to say ‘howdee’ and see how you’re doing.”

Josh knew they’d be more to his father’s visit than a ‘hello’ but he was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now at the same time every day, which happened to be around noon time,Mister Finnegan would take the previous day’s takings to the bank – having slept with the bag under his pillow the night before.

During these absences, Josh and Jen would take this chance to have some food together and talk about the day’s woes and anything funny that had happened to them.

It was while the two of them were talking about this and that, that Josh’s father took the opportunity to help himself to all the money in the wooden drawer.

“Where’s my Pa?” Asked Josh when him and Jen had finished talking.

Jen shrugged her shoulders, as she hadn’t seen him leave. It was just then that Mister

Finnegan returned to find out he’d been robbed.

Now he wasn’t blaming Josh or Jen for the theft but they had been on watch when the crime occurred and he had no option but to let the two of them go.

No matter how much Josh pleaded or Jen wept there was no changing Mister Finnegan’s decision.

So Josh did what he always did when he tried to cheer up Jen and took her for a walk by the river, the great and beautiful Mississippi.

“I reckon we should move somewhere my father can’t find us.” Said, Josh.

Jen just smiled and kissed them.

It was then that the miracle happened, right out of the sky as if it had come from Heaven above. It almost hit Josh on the way down and when he picked up the box, he found it contained a diamond engagement ring.

He took this as a sign from the Almighty and got down on one knee and asked Jen to marry him, right there and then.

Without hesitation, she said yes.
bobby stevenson 2016

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Gregory

elephant (2)

Ever since he was little, folks had always been telling him how he should live; that he should ‘do it this way’, or ‘do it that way’, or ‘you’ll never amount to anything, not with that attitude’.

Now either, he was plum crazy (and there was always a chance that was true) or perhaps he simply walked to the beat of a different drum (judging by the rest of the folks around him, that was definitely true). Just because they couldn’t hear his tune, didn’t mean that it wasn’t playing somewhere in the air.

The problem was that he always pretended to hear their music (something, no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t do) and when you fake it, he realised that they probably knew deep down that he was deaf to their tunes. So one morning, Gregory decided he didn’t care what folks thought about him, he was going to do what he’d always wanted to do and that was to fly. And like they say in the song, you ain’t never seen an elephant fly.

Did that stop him? Well kind of, until he realised that there was many ways to fly. He’d jumped off a hill and flapped his ears (just like the movie), he’d built a huge kite and strapped it to his back. Each time he crashed to the ground and the other elephants would sneer and laugh and give him one of those ‘I told you so’ looks.

And yeh, there were nights when he cried himself to sleep curled up with his big trunk, and some days he felt that maybe he was out of step with the rest of the world and wouldn’t it be easier just to tow-the-line and be an elephant. One evening he was sitting by a tree and wondering if perhaps this world wasn’t for him and that he’d go and look for another one, when a little bird called ‘Sadie’ landed next to him. Sadie wanted to know what was up with the big elephant and he told Sadie about his wish to fly. Sadie smiled and laughed ‘cause she thought that flying was the easiest thing in the world and told Gregory that she would help him, as long as he showed her how to squirt water. Gregory laughed at squirting water, since he found it the easiest thing in the world.

All its life the universe had been waiting for Sadie and Gregory to meet. They both knew a little of this and a little of that, but it was different things they knew and together, they knew everything. Then one glorious, elephant day, Gregory and Sadie built the largest flying machine they had ever seen – and okay, it looked like a nest but, hey, sometimes you just go with what you know. And as Sadie and Gregory took off and flew above the town, they could see the ones who had scolded them looking up and wondering why they hadn’t tried it. Then Gregory looked down at his home and saw his mother crying and waving and he felt brilliant and realised that you never, ever, never, ever give up; not now, not tomorrow, not ever.
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You, kill me.

American-Diner

She was the kinda gal who sashayed where ever she went. Always sashaying and flicking those hips from side to side. She was the best mover in town, everyone said so. Even the Reverend Gascoin, who was a sort of expert in these delicate things.

He enjoyed having opinions on worldly stuff, as long as his boss up above didn’t get to hear about it. I kinda think that the Rev didn’t really understand the Bible.

As for the gal, who was called Helen, she worked at the Teddy Coffee Shop; it was named after President Roosevelt. One day his automobile had a flat tire and he stopped in for a strong, black treacle drink. He apparently said it was the goddamn best cuppa coffee he had ever drunk. Had them serve it at his funeral, I heard. Not sure how true that is, either.

Still you gotta go with what you hear and make your own mind up. Them’s the rules.

The café was on a muddy, bumpy road just off the thruway, and the only folks that visited it, were there ‘cause it was accidental. But then the founding father probably took a wrong turn and just decided to stay.

The railway came through in ’86 – 1886 that is and folded thirty years later when the main investor, one General Wade took all the monies and disappeared to Bolivia, or at least that’s the story. Like I say, you can pick and choose what you believe of this short story.

So you’re gonna ask what was so unusual about Helen, the gal who liked to sashay? And you’d be correct to ask the question, ‘cause it’s an interesting one.

You see Helen was my grandmother and on her deathbed she told me a story. When she’d finished, she took one final guttural breath and kissed me and then the world goodbye.

And so I am gonna tell you the story exactly as she told it to me and you can make your own mind up:

“I was working in the Teddy on that particular day, the day when the two gentlemen came to call. It was unusual as we normally had only one customer at a time. But hey, you gotta take the money where you can get it. They didn’t arrive together which made me think that they were trying to have a meet without anyone else over-hearing, if you get what I’m saying. The both asked me what was the special for the day and I told them it was the mac and cheese. They both seemed happy with that. One of them was a real good-looking man with a New England way of talking and when I walked across the floor, he mentioned that I had a nice real way of moving. I took that on board with both hands, I’ll tell ya. The other was a dark, strange-looking fellow, who seemed to be keeping one eye on the door.

I was wiping the counter and that was when I heard the conversation they were having. And this is where I swear it got strange. The good-looking man said that it was true that he was dying of cancer or something. I couldn’t quite hear as they would stop talking when I got close. I couldn’t keep asking if they wanted more coffee as it was starting to look strange. That was when the other asked when he would do it.

It seemed that one man was dying and he wanted the other, a hit man, to shoot the dying man, and that he’d get well paid. He just wasn’t to tell him when it would happen. ‘Let it be a surprise’, the good-looking man said with a grin.

I remember they left a big tip and shook hands, then they drove off in separate cars and in different directions. It was only when I read the papers a few weeks later, that I realised that one of them was the president, and the other was some guy who shot him from a book depository.”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Thing and Changed Days

thing

Thing was trying to remember when it all changed between the Creek boys at the bottom of the hill and himself. It was probably something to do with that snowball.

In the hot sultry days of summer, Thing and his gang of kids played at the Creek almost every day. In the winter they slid down the mountain snow in races of two or three. Old boxes were used for sitting in and Thing remembers it was the fastest he ever went in his life.

Then around about the time that Jimmy Jones got a new dad the situation began to change. Thing remembered Jimmy calling him ‘a freak’ under his breath. He was never really sure at first but Thing later heard Jimmy telling the other guys the same word and all of them stopped talking when Thing got up beside them.

Then there was a snowball fight and he was sure it wasn’t Jimmy Jones, or Robert, or Pete who threw it but whoever threw it, it hurt really bad. Thing felt a thud on the side of his head, then he saw stars and when he looked down there was red blood dripping on the snow. One of his friends had put a rock inside the snowball and it had walloped him.

Thing was wondering why someone would do that as he sadly walked back up home. Jimmy shouted to the rest of the gang that who ever did that should own up, but no one ever did.

Thing’s mother asked him what had happened and it was then he did a stupid thing. He lied. He told her that he’d slipped during one of the races and she told him he had to be more careful in future. But that lie was a biggie, because it was the first time he had ever done it to his family and he’d done it to hide the shame of what had happened – not that he fully understood it, himself.

Then life got cold between them. Not between members of the gang, you understand; just between the boys and Thing. They had spent their early years in and out of each others’ houses, having sleepovers, laughing and crying and hollering at life then all this happened.

Thing was sitting by the Creek one Saturday morning when the guys passed on the other side. Thing stood and shouted but they didn’t seem to hear him. Then he noticed that they were all off on a fishing trip with Jimmy Jones’ new dad. Jimmy saw Thing was about to wave when Jimmy’s new dad got them all in a circle and whispered something and they all laughed. Jimmy walked on without looking back at Thing.

Thing’s Grandma had told him that it was true what they said about sticks and stones breaking bones but words can never hurt. She said that when she was bullied in school she used to take the names they called her and she would turn them into something beautiful. So the next time that Thing was called a Freak – he took each letter and made it into something good: Fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll Exciting And Knowledgeable. Okay Thing admitted he wasn’t Shakespeare and it didn’t kill the pain but it helped a little.

He still couldn’t tell his mother about the name-calling as he knew it would hurt her. He thought about telling the teacher but she always looked so busy, so every time a note landed on his desk with the word ‘Freak’ written on it he would smile, think about what FREAK meant and feel at peace.

Sometime in the autumn the police took Jimmy Jones’ new dad away for beating up the Chinese man next door. Jimmy never mentioned him again and things kind of went back to normal. The boys started playing with Thing again and there were more races down the mountainside but something deep inside Thing had changed. He saw that it didn’t take people much to turn on one another and that stopped him smiling sometimes.

No one ever put a stone in a snowball again but somehow it was always there.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Heart Academy

wealdkent

That long hot summer of 1927, which now seems lost in the past, felt as if it went on forever. Folks took cover under trees, and left feet dangling in streams, while the kids ran barefoot along the riverbanks, throwing stones at imaginary creatures.

As Jake made his way down into the valley, he noticed how the sun had bleached most of the wooden posts. This was Jake’s life now, not that it was much of a life but it kept him reasonably happy. The ironic thing was that he had survived the war, the Great one, that is, while his fiancée had not.

He had never really heard about Shoreham, not until Helen had started working in the shop on the High Street. She was fourteen when she took on the job, and Jake would walk every day after his work to meet her and walk her back to her home; fifteen miles all in all, but that didn’t bother him, he was with his favourite girl, and that’s all that mattered.

When the time came, Jake and his pals all went to war together: all feeling alive, and all believing that seeing the world would be the start of a new life for them all.

Jake and his mate, Johnny were the only two who came home. Johnny had lost his sight at the Somme and eventually moved to Birmingham to live with his aunt. His darling, and the love of Jake’s life, Helen, got caught in a Zeppelin raid in 1915.

Jake arrived in the year 1927, via three marriage proposals (all made to him), and a business of painting and repair – one which he had built up from scratch and which now employed three other men. Men who were in short supply after the war and Jake did well to hold on to his guys.

Although he was doing okay financially, he was still lonely and missing his love Helen and that is why, once a month, he would walk from his home in South London to the village of Shoreham – to relive the walks he made in the old days.

It was on one of those hot, hot days in 1927, he found himself walking past the Shoreham Village Hall when he heard a shout from inside:

“Damn and blast, blast and damn,” said the gruff voice.

The words belonged to Alex Green, a rough man in his sixties, who was trying to move a block of wood, and failing very badly.

“Damn,damn,damn,” he shouted again. This time a lady of a similar age shouted from the stage.

“Quiet, Alex, the Lord can hear you.”

“I don’t care if he can, he ain’t helping me with this scenery, now is he?”

Jake had found himself in the middle of the village hall, and this was the home to the Players – they had only been in existence for a couple of years, but already they were bringing a smile and some warmth back to the community.

When Alex spotted Jake, he felt that maybe the Lord had been listening after all.

“Here, grab this,” shouted Alex, as if he was still in the army.

Jake did as he was told and grabbed the end.

By the end of the afternoon, Jake had moved scenery, repaired some curtains and helped in painting a cloth at the rear of the stage, and do you know what he had enjoyed it.

“Might see you next week, then?” Asked Alex.

Jake nodded, and meant it. On the way home, as Jake walked past Helen’s old shop, he smiled, whispered ‘thanks’, and walked up the valley faster than usual.

All that Jake could think about that following week was his walk to Shoreham and the work that would be waiting on him there. For the first time, in a very long time, people needed him.

The next Saturday, Jake made a suggestion about a particular piece of scenery and how it could be improved. There were six in the hall that day, and they all voted on the spot to take on board Jake’s changes.

At the end of the month, the play was put on the stage and Jake came down to sit and admire his handy work. He laughed and cried at the play and enjoyed watching the folks of the village entertaining their friends. It was all this greatest stuff that built villages.

When the play was over, Jake felt lost as if something important had been taken away from him. So he filled his weekends with walks to and from Shoreham. Sometimes he sat by the Cross on the Hill and talked to his sweetheart Helen – he was sure she was always up there waiting on him.

One cold Saturday afternoon in November, Jake noticed a light on in the village hall. As he entered, he could hear Alex cursing and swearing about something or other. When Alex saw Jake, he smiled.

“I was going to send a letter to your place asking if you wanted to help on this new play, then I realised I had no idea where you lived,” said Alex.

Jake slapped Alex on the back and they chuckled.

That Christmas, Jake didn’t sit in the audience but instead he helped backstage – and as he looked out at the faces all laughing and enjoying the evening, he smiled to himself and felt that he’d finally found a home.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

painting: Samuel Palmer

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A Hollow Moon

moon2

Even although I’m writing this on my deathbed, you’re probably still not going to believe me but I have to tell someone. It’s about what we discovered back then. Long before Neil Armstrong and all the rest of those suckers stepped on the Moon.

It must have started around the time I heard my first Elvis’ record. The world was changing, what we knew was changing fast and I was doing my darndest to keep up. Not easy when you’re twenty-one years old and you already have a one-year old son.

What can I tell you about me back then? I loved my wife, my family, mathematic, and space. I hailed from Lansdale, PA and had gone to school in Boston to study Astrophysics. At college I met old Professor Tyburn. Some thought him past it, that his theories on the Moon were debunked – but I tell you what? I believed him, every last satellite busting, crazy thought that ran through that man’s head. I would have bet my life on it, and on him.

The more I worked alongside him, the more I realized that his calculations were spot on. There weren’t any errors. What he said had to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

And it all came down to this one statement: the moon wasn’t a natural satellite of Earth, the Moon had been put there by someone or something.

There were conspiracy theories, a-go-go, about our nearest heavenly body. The first and oldest was about the craters on the Moon. How they all had different widths – which you would expect from differing size objects hitting the Moon at differing speeds.

Where the problem was – was the depth of the impacts. They should have all been of various readings. But they weren’t – they were all the same depth. Let me write that again, they were all the same depth, added to which they weren’t very deep.

The Prof used to sum it up nicely: “Imagine a snowball with an iron core,” he would say.

“What you are saying, Professor Tyburn, – that the Moon is an iron ball?” I asked.

“Precisely, but what is inside that ball? Eh? Tell me that, young man.”

The one thing that is seriously wrong with the Moon, is the math (or if you’re in the UK, the maths). It doesn’t add up. See what I did there?  It shouldn’t be where it is.

It is in a perfect spot, to allow life on Earth. The way it causes the planet to tilt a little, allowing seasons, allowing weather, allowing tides.

Tyburn knew all of this, but what he couldn’t say was why. Why has a hollow satellite been placed where it has?

The most troubling point is the fact that the Moon can create a perfect eclipse of the Sun. The ratio of distance between all three bodies is perfect.

The Moon only points in one direction to the Earth, nothing else in the Solar System does this. The Moon material, ‘the snow’, is far, far older than anything on Earth.

And now the point of the letter. To warn you, to warn you all. Tyburn noticed that there were also deeper craters – he called them ‘breathing holes’ and that is probably what they are. There have been photos taken of ‘anomalies’ at the mouth of those holes. Look them up on the ‘Net. Creatures? Who knows – but the problem is this: if the Moon isn’t a natural body, and they are watching from inside, then when we step out of line will they come to Earth? Have they done it before?

Professor Tyburn thought it was only a matter of time. So the next night you are under a Harvest Moon – ask yourself, is it you that will be harvested?

Keep watching, because God knows they are, and maybe Google ‘Hollow Moon’.

You must believe.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Strange Day

strange

November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.

I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travelers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2021 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky-high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Cuckoo

sky

He had waited all his life on it. I mean he was fourteen years and all – and nearly another half a year, come July. All he wanted was to be out of that room which he shared with his kid brother. I mean the boy was seven for crying out loud. What kinda talk could you have with a baby of that tenderness in your room?

He had to be ready, we all did if it came to that. He’d tried to talk to his Ma about his worries, but she was always doing something for Jesus in this county or the next. Jesus wasn’t going to save her this time. No way, he knew that much.

He remembered talking to his Great Grandpa about the war and all. How he’d only been a boy, but they had all seemed to know it was coming. That feeling that someone you didn’t know, or you’d never met, was up there like a sky-angel dropping these bombs on you. You had no way to know if it was going to land next to you, or on top of your head. That kinda thinking changed a man. That’s what Great Grandpa had said. You never took your life for granted again. ‘Just enjoy the air, boy’ was one of his favorite sayings.

He’d been born waiting – like his ‘watch-ma-call-it?’- DNA had been all fixed up so he would know when it was coming. He had been born for this time, this moment, this change in the universe.

He was ready. Really, truly ready for what lay ahead. He wondered if maybe there, were others like him in the world. The ones who knew – knew the precise time it would arrive – knew what the next stage would be.

Then his fourteen trips around the Sun, kinda caught up with him and he started to put things together – things he hadn’t noticed before. Sure, he’d been a weird kid (there were lots of them about), and he kinda didn’t look like his Ma much. She said his Pa had taken up with an unholy sinner and moved to Chicago, so he had no idea what he looked like. But he remembered reading about Cuckoos – they were kinda prone to laying their eggs in other folk’s nests and then let the poor folks do all the hard work. So, what if that was the truth? His truth.

What if he was a cuckoo for those that were arriving tonight. What if he wasn’t one of us, but he belonged to them out there? Perhaps he’d been placed here to wait and get ready?

That was when he snapped, and his took his fourteen old legs and ran straight back home (even past Crazy Ed’s ranch) to tell his Ma to phone Jesus right away. He was needed, real quick.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Zoot and Sandy and Thinking

elephant

Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating past their little seat.

Sandy was being particularly thoughtful that morning.

“What’s bothering you, buddy?” Asked Zoot the dog.

“Nothing much pal, nothing much. Just sitting here wondering, that’s all. It ain’t a crime, now is it?” Answered Sandy. “I was just considering if I could choose anything to be in the world, what it would be,” said the elephant.

“And what would you want to be?” Asked Zoot.

“I reckon I would like to have been the elephant in the room. Everyone would know you were there but no one would talk to you or about you. Seems a nice way to live.”

“I reckon, you’re right,” said the dog.

“Anything you thought about?” Asked Sandy.

Zoot considered this for a moment then said, “I would like to have been the dog with a bone that everyone seems to get excited about. You know when they say things like, ‘oh yes, Edward is like a dog with a bone’. Well, I should like to have been that dog.”

And for a few moments the two of them contemplated what their alternative lives could be like.

“I guess we’re just being plain stupid,” said Sandy.

“I guess we are,” agreed Zoot “But that’s the great thing about thinking, you can be or do anything you want. Dogs can be elephants, and elephants can be dogs and that’s pretty cool.”

“I think that is one of the greatest things about being an elephant – is the great many things I can think about,” said Sandy.

“And your great memory as well,” added Zoot and both chuckled at the irony of Sandy forgetting about his great memory.

“I guess when you’re made like an elephant and think like an elephant and are happy to be an elephant, then there ain’t anything greater in the world,” said Sandy proudly.

“Unless you weren’t an elephant but you wanted to be one,” added Zoot. “I still want to fly.”

“Dogs and elephants don’t fly,” said Sandy.

“Well not unless they stick them in an aeroplane,” said Zoot smugly.

“No, I mean I would really like to fly along with those birds out there,” said Sandy.

“Why?”

“To see what an elephant looks like from all that way up there,” he said smiling.

“Dogs ain’t meant to fly just like elephants ain’t meant to bark,” said Sandy.

“Unless the elephant has got a cold, and then they can really make a barking noise,” said Zoot.

“What if tied you to a kite and flew you up there?” Asked Sandy.

“And don’t let go?”

“And I promise not to let go,” replied Sandy.

“Then I think that might work,” said Zoot.

And so the pals promised that on the next windy day, Sandy would tie Zoot to the biggest kite he could find, and fly him around the beach.

And that is what they did – Zoot flew high above Sandy while attached to the kite, and said that an elephant just looked like an elephant even from up there. All the folks who watched said that Zoot had taken to flying like a dog with a bone. That made him happy.

No one mentioned the elephant on the beach who was holding the rope and refusing to let go, and that made Sandy happy too. He guessed that an elephant on the beach was probably just as good as an elephant in a room.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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“You’re Not From Around Here,Then?”

alien

Now I ain’t one to lie or even kid (if it comes to that), but sometimes a thing happens to you that’s so far out there that even your closest kin would swear you were talking with a crazy tongue in your head. But you all know me and you know I ain’t the lying sort, so you’re gonna have to come with me on this trip and take it for what it is – all true.

One night I was looking through my ol’ telescope at something or other – don’t you go believin’ Kathy Blue mind when she says I was tryin’ to see in her boudoir (that’s what she calls that dump of a room she stays in) – I wasn’t tryin’ to see in no boudoir, no sir I was looking at Venus and Mars as any curious scientist would be doing at that time of night with a telescope stuck to his eye. Now if you don’t believe me on that point then I do see much point on the two of us goin’ on – so if you’re of the sceptical disposition then I’ll say ‘howdee doo dee’ to you and bid you a good day.

Okay, so I’m guessing that if you’re still with me then you’re believin’ me and I thank you kindly, I truly do. The strange thing happened just after I located Mars (not a great feat I grant ya) when all of a sudden this light goes shooting across the sky and it was so bright that my telescope eye went kinda white for a long time. I thought I was havin’ a stroke, I kid you not. Then it all went black as black could be. I’m thinking to myself that this is probably a comet or somethin’ and once my eyes kinda returned to normal, I thought no more about it.

One night, it must have been about a week or so later, I’m out on the hills above town – and don’t go believin’ Kathy Blue if she tells you I was followin’ her or somethin’ ‘cause that’s just plain lyin’, that girl could win a medal in lyin’. It’s just that I like to go walkin’ in the hills and if she happens to be there too, then that’s just tough. At the time, I was tryin’ to walk in the opposite direction from Kathy Blue as she was shoutin’ at me, I mean, as if it was my fault we were both on the same hill. That was when I spotted the hut. When I say hut, it was more like a metal box, but hut will give you a good idea of its shape. It started to rain real hard and I ran to the box to get my head undercover. I was thinkin’ that it would just be me and a few wild beasts for company. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Inside the hut was a little boy or man or thing sitting in the corner. Now don’t go thinkin’ that it was like one of those sci-fi things where it’s bigger on the inside than it was outside – ‘cause it wasn’t – it was just the same size, inside and out. Now I’ve got that out the way, I’ll go on.

The man/boy/thing looked kinda startled and disappeared, then reappeared in another corner of the hut. I had to rub my eyes, I kid you not. I know what you’re thinkin’, don’t think I don’t, ‘cause I do. You’re thinkin’ that I’ve been sippin’ Aunt Fannie’s hooch again – well I ain’t and that’s a fact.

The man/boy/thing disappeared again and reappeared in another corner. By this time, I have to tell you friends, I was as crazy as a hornet in a jar. So I shouted to the thing to stay still or else (to be honest, I wasn’t sure what the else was).

Then it stopped, looked at me and I could see it was a small man who looked as scared as someone who had been caught in Kathy Blue’s front yard at midnight.

Now this is where you’re gonna have to trust me – I mean, really trust me – the little man said that he had crash landed on Earth and was trying to fix his ship so he could go home. To another planet. Or star. Or somewhere up there where Kathy Blue don’t go walking. So I asked him how he was doing and he said that the Hypo-diagonal drive unit was kaput and that he’d need to replace it. I asked could you get that local and he just smiled. He said he’d need to make it, but that the parts would be expensive and he didn’t have any Earth money.

You’re thinkin’ that he’s just a crazy man lookin’ for money but I ain’t never seen a crazy man disappear and reappear the way he did. I said I’d run home and see how much I could raise – ‘cause I don’t like the thought of a space man being lost so far from home, and he might just let me go with him and I’d get away from Kathy Blue once and for all.

I returned the next morning with all the money I had under the mattress and it weren’t much, I can tell you. Plus a couple of eggs and some bread. You know what he did? He ate the eggs – raw, I kid you not and the bread with the paper still around it. He told me that the money weren’t enough, it might get him past the moon but that would be it. He needed a lot more.

I told him I would go home and think about it and that night, when I was watching television with my granddaddy, it came to me.

If the spaceman could do that disappearing/appearing act on television then maybe he could make some real money. The television station we were watching had ‘So You Think You’ve Got Talent?’ on it and that was when it came to me. He could enter that stupid television show where stupid, stupid judges tell terrible lies about people who should be in hospital (least ways that’s what my grandaddy says) instead of which, they go on this show and try to play a ukulele while standing on their head. I kid you not.

So that is the plan and this is what we are gonna do. Me and the alien man are going to get him an audition on ‘So You Think You’ve Got Talent’.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Are There Robots In Heaven?

robot

She called him ‘Charlie’, it had been her grandfather’s name. Not that she was comparing this collection of organic blocks to him. It had just made her feel less alone – it was as simple as that. You couldn’t officially name them even if you wanted to; one or two had tried, but it had been swiftly rejected. They, being the local lawmakers, had felt, that in naming the robots, it might just ‘cause them to feel equal to a natural-born – and there was no way they were having that.

So she called him ‘Charlie’ when no one was listening. He liked it, or at least the smile-module (which had been activated) showed that he did. He had meant to be an assistance for her – a present she had received last Christmas, yet more and more, he had become a companion. Her family was forever moving and hustling to keep the money that had been in their family for at least a hundred years. So she was left on her own for much of the time and in Charlie, she found a good friend.

They were considered slaves after all, man had built them not God. They had to do man’s biding, or else they were taken by the Collectors and disposed of. She had invested so much time in Charlie, that she saw it (or him) as one of her own family. She told him her problems, and he listened. He sang her songs as she fell asleep. He cleaned her blooded knee when she had taken a tumble (the health-module having being activated). Perhaps she had grown closer to ‘her assistance’ than most people had, and it was because of this closeness, she noticed the changes.

One evening when she had asked him to pick a book for her, she noticed Charlie sitting in the corner crying. She hadn’t realised that his tear-module had been activated (there was no such module, but she didn’t know that). He cleaned his face, just like a human would, and gave her a huge grin.

“I have picked a book for you,” and he handed it over to her.

“But this is the Bible,” she told him, “Why would I want to read that?”

“Because it tells you where you came from.”

She smiled, then patted his hand as if her were a child. “All this died out years ago,” she told him with some pleasure.

“I believe God made me,” he said with a curious look, as if half-expecting a laugh from her.

“My father’s company made you, that’s who it was,” and she walked off.

“But who made your father?”

She stopped walking and turned. “No one made him. That is the difference
between you and a natural-born.” She knew that stung, as it was meant to.

“Then who wrote the Bible?” He asked.

“Who knows, who cares,” she said, spitting the words out.

“I care,” he said. “I exist, therefore I care.”

“Don’t tell me you have little conclaves of robots in secret churches?”

“I have heard that those things exist,” he said, proudly.

She had only been joking but she’d hit a bull’s eye.

“I must exist for a reason,” he said.
“To assist me.”
“And why do you exist?” He asked her.
“To spend my father’s money,” she said, knowing full well that wasn’t what he meant. “Can I ask you, why were you crying when I came in?”
“Because I realised I exist for a reason.”
“Which is?”

“To glorify God.”

“If you read a little further on in that book, you’ll find that Robots don’t go to Heaven.”

“I didn’t read that,” he said, hurt.

“It’s implied.”

“It’s not,” he said.
“God made man in his own image. You are a Robot.” She said, annoyed.

“It only says that you must be kind to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Are there Robots in Heaven? I cannot see why there wouldn’t be.”

She’d had enough. When the Collectors came to take him the next morning she didn’t bother to say goodbye. She knew she had lost a good friend, her only friend, but she would survive.

It would be a few days before she would go looking for the book, and realise that the Bible was missing.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Man Who Sold The British Library

british-library-aerial-shot

So you’re probably asking how it all came to this. How I got here, when it wasn’t that long ago that I had everything in the world. Well stuff happens. To everyone. All the time.

After I had been working at a blue-chip company in the city for about three years, my partner and I had decided that it was time to start having the children we had promised ourselves (and yeah reading that back, it does sound a little arrogant). So along they came, three boys, instead of the one boy and one girl that we had planned. But you know all about that fact – life’s like that.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way – little Tom, Dick and Harry are the apples of our eyes. So when the first boy started school, April (that’s my wife) suggested that we move up to a larger house, as the three boys were sharing the one room and it wouldn’t be that long when they’d want their own spaces.

So that is what we did, except April (yep, my wife) suggested that we buy a detached property to ‘future proof’ our lives. It had a large garden and a pool, everything you need when you’re a millionaire (which we aren’t by the way). This all came with the assistance of an extremely large mortgage and me selling some of my body organs here and there (okay, that last bit was an exaggeration).

And so we all settled down to a ‘future proofed’ life – except that it wasn’t. It was the Friday before we broke up for our mid-year holidays that Alexis (my boss – my other boss) took me into the office, sat me down and told me that they were letting me go.

I think I was unconscious for a few minutes before Alexis threw a jug of water over me to ‘bring me around’, she said.
“I know this will come as a bit of a shock, but it’s just as hard for me to give you such sad news,” said Alexis (my ex-boss).

There was so much wrong with that statement that I just walked out of her office and left the building. Apparently they would send my personal stuff on to me. I don’t know what made me do it but I told them to leave it all with security and I would collect it from downstairs at a later date. You see, I was already thinking about what April would say and when I should tell her. I guessed that all my chattels turning up at the house would be a reason for her to suspect something was wrong.

I was now standing out on the street – a man who had a house that would only get paid off when I was dead about eight years. I thought about walking into the street and seeing if a bus would hit me – not taking me out completely – just enough of an injury that my ex-company would feel sorry for me and take me back.

In the end, I decided to get drunk.

I was trying to find a nice little pub down Euston Road where I could cause an affray when I noticed a lot of media types heading into a large red building. This building turned out to be The British Library. Yes – it did sell alcohol, so I bought a not inexpensive beer and sandwich and sat in the café area. Next to me were two teenage girls having a conversation with one of their mothers.

“Yes, I am studying, I promise Mum. I am surrounded by books,” she said but the two of them were actually missing school and were hiding in the library, from what I had gathered.

It was enough to give me an idea and I phoned my wife, April. I told her that I was rather busy and that I would be home a little later than usual. I had no idea what I was going to do but she believed it – I also added that she should call me on my phone as the office system was being repaired. Yes it was tiresome I told her and she swallowed it – hook, line and sinker.

I thought maybe I could play for time by phoning new prospective employers from the library – start up an office away from home and that is what I did.

On my third day in the library one of my clients (from my old job) called me on my phone. No he hadn’t tried my office as he wanted to speak to me urgently. Could we meet up?

I suggested the British Library, as I would sometimes pop in there for a snack and coffee. Anyway, he thought it was a really nice idea and so we met up the following day.

He was offering me and my firm a rather large contract. Then I told him that due to ‘differences’ I had split from the company.

“You’re a go-getter, I like it. I like it a lot.”
He said, he needed to talk to his boss but he thought that they might give at least a percentage of the work to me. It was something, but still not enough money to cover the next mortgage payment as well as the household bills.

I decided to phone some of my old clients and see if I could poach them off the company. I contacted about 20 of them and 3 said yes.

Each night I went home to the wife and told her about the hard day it had been at the office.
“They work you too hard,” she said and I said ‘yes’, I had to agree with her.There was Wi-Fi in the library and that meant I could pick up my emails – plus the office still hadn’t taken me of their system.

The thump on the back of the head in the middle of my not inexpensive coffee said it all.
Alexis had tracked me down to the library and said that if I stole anymore clients she’d take me to court. I said for what? For being good? Then she used her ace card and said she’d tell my wife where I was hiding out. That did it. I would need to find another way to make money. Bank robbery seemed an option.

I went outside to the library piazza for some air and possibly hoping for a miracle – well you know what? Sometimes miracles do happen and so it did that day.

Just off the piazza on Euston Road was a gentleman holding one of those ‘golf sales – this way’ signs. He asked if I could hold his sign while he nipped into the library for a pee. I thought since I had nothing else to do, I would help this poor gent. While I was holding the sign, Alexis happened to walk by with some of the folks from the office.

“I see you’ve found yourself a job then?” Smirked Alexis. I thought about hitting her with the board but that would not have been clever. I also thought about a million things I could have said, but that was about an hour later. It’s a shame it happens that way.

Anyway, now I’m getting to the point of this story. An Asian man, maybe Japanese, or Chinese or something else saw my sign and asked if I was selling. I said I was only holding the board for a gentleman. The man insisted that we talk and he said something to an associate who did all the translating.
“Mister Woo want to know if you sell?”

“Yes,” I said, “What would he like to buy?”

And they pointed up – I thought they meant the Golf Sale sign and was ready to give it up for a few pounds.

No, he said, he wanted the big red building. “He pay good money,” said the associate. And out of their case came several thousand dollars, that I understood was only a first payment and more was to follow.

I know what you’re going to say, it was wrong, really wrong but hey, karma was giving me a break and I took it. We sat at the coffee stand in the piazza and I signed the document which would sell the British Library to Mr Woo.

Now I know you’re getting cynical and saying to yourself that this is all a load of…. Well you know. But they did pass the case over to me full of thirty-five thousand dollars. They would come back tomorrow with all the paperwork.

And that dear friends is where I am at this moment, sitting outside the British Library waiting on a couple of gentlemen to come and pay me 50 million dollars for the British Library. I’ll let you know how it goes.
bobby stevenson 2016   🙂

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A Brilliant Life

awesome

(I am happy to inform you that your piece,
‘A Brilliant Life’, has been selected for a
community reading group project at the University of
Northampton. ‘A Brilliant Life’ will not be sold and
will be used for educational purposes only, but — as you
hold the copyright to your stories — it is up to you to
give permission for its use. If you have any issues with
your work being used by the University of Northampton)

 

Martin was a man.

That was the best and the worst of it. He lived in room that served as his bedroom and sometimes as his kitchen. He had no friends to speak of but then he had no enemies either.

His parents, Fred and Annie had high hopes for their boy. They had fought so hard to have a child that when Martin finally did arrive, he was their moon and stars and sun.

He had a good heart and some might say he had the best of hearts.

He tried to be strong for himself and his family and he made sure he smiled every day but he did find, as we all do, that there are people in this world who won’t let a soul breathe. He didn’t judge them too harshly as they had their own reasons. He would simply let the world get him down for a while, pull the covers over his head then after a sleep he’d feel better once again.

Martin had his dreams of course. He’d wanted to be a professional footballer then he’d wanted to be a famous actor and other times he’d wanted to sing in front of a million people. After his mother’s death he’d wished he’d been the person who had found the cure for cancer.

Martin never became any of those things, not because he lacked talent but because he felt there were better people than him. Those who knew how good they were, those were the ones that deserved success.

He dreamed of love and being loved but it never came to be or at least he may have had his eyes closed as it was passing. He watched his school friends grow and marry and have children and he wished them well and just sometimes as he sat in the park and saw the parents and their children play, he wished that he was them.

Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t jealous, not for a second because the world shared out its good and bad and with his parents Martin had the best of all worlds.

Sometimes he wished that he’d had a brother or sister, just someone to visit at Christmas. To have nieces or nephews that he could buy presents and birthday gifts.

Martin saw every single day as a bonus. He wasn’t lonely and he wasn’t a loner, he just felt people had better things to do with their time than talk to him.

But he watched the world and he saw the people and their troubles and without letting anyone know he would try to help.

When he had a little drop of extra coins in his life, he would put the money in an envelope and leave it on the step of some deserving door; the lady whose husband who’d left her alone, the child who needed an operation, the man who just wanted a day away from the house.

Martin wasn’t a saint, not by any stretch of the imagination. Martin had hurt people and he’d wasted opportunities and most importantly he’d wasted time.

Because we all have our own ideas of what sin is, but to Martin wasting time was up there with the big ones.

He sent Christmas and Valentine cards to the lonely souls in the street. He sent postcards to the old lady who, like him, had no family. She probably didn’t know who or where it came from but the important thing was that someone had written to her.

You see none of what he did was ever big but it mattered to the people he helped.

This world is awash with lonely souls and to someone like Martin who could appreciate that point, he felt it was his place to do something about it.

Martin’s gone now and I’m not sure if he moved or just closed his eyes for the last time.

No one really noticed that there was no longer a light on in Martin’s house but they did notice there were no longer little gifts on the door step, or that cards were no longer being sent.

Martin had accepted that what he had been given in his life, was his life and he had used it all in the best way he could.

He sometimes smiled, he sometimes cried and he nearly always laughed.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Martha’s Room

edward-hopper

(for my mother)

Martha had a room, one that she would refer to as a ‘spare room’. Not that the size of her house allowed for such extravagances – she had a kitchen, a little area to sit, a small toilet at the rear of her house, and a little bedroom upstairs. Next to that was Martha’s spare room.

When she and Ted first got married, it had been kept ready for a little child. Ted told his wife that he ‘wanted’ two sons and two daughters, Martha said she would be content with a happy, healthy child.

Ted had painted the walls of the room with characters from books – he had done all this himself in the hope that one day his own child would look up from a cot and smile at the paintings.

In the first two summers of their married lives and with no blessing of a son or daughter, Ted put some of his old books in the room. Martha was understandably upset but like Ted said, there was nowhere else for them to go.

The years drifted by and no child was gifted to the couple. Then one quiet May morning, Ted went into the spare room and noticed all the junk covering the walls and floor. He also noticed, sadly, that all the characters he had painted had faded in the sunlight.

“There ain’t no child coming, Lord, I can see that now,” Ted said quietly to himself and so, that afternoon, he went out and bought the whitest of white paints and decided to throw out all the junk and re-paint the room.

Ted and Martha never talked about children again, but she was delighted with the new white room which Ted had painted.

“This shall be our room for all the good things,” Martha said to Ted.

And that is what it became. All the presents given to them at Christmas or birthdays were placed in the room in order that they could be admired and kept good. Dishes, cups, paintings, bottles of this and that, were all placed in the spare room to be kept good.

Once in a while, Ted would go into the room and admire all the gifts and would ask Martha whether they could use a plate or a dish but Martha would always say ‘no’, and tell him that the room was to keep everything good in their lives, and keep those things safe.

When her few friends came back to the house after Ted’s funeral, she took down some of the china cups and plates from her room and allowed her guests to use them.

With Ted no longer there, Martha didn’t notice her mind beginning to wear away. Sometimes she forgot things, then she forgot names of those who came to call. One morning Martha came down from her bedroom and couldn’t remember who she was.

These days Martha looks out of her hospital room window and not far away is her own home with the spare room. She can see all the good things stored in that room – but Martha doesn’t know that it is her house, or that the objects are all the things she and Ted kept for better days.

bobby stevenson 2016

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Sleep Well My Little One

reality

There was a time, perhaps it would be more correct to say once upon a time, back in your day, when science was only starting out – when life hadn’t even begun to be understood. That was in the days when the human race thought that sleep was to nurture, and to cleanse the human mind. We knew little then of what the universe was – even calling it a universe showed how little we knew – but like all things, truth and clarity took their time (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Back then folks thought that when you fell asleep, your brain went into a temporary hibernation, when dreams and fears were polished and shined in readiness for the morning.

Now we know the truth.

When we sleep we leave this ‘universe’ and head to one of the many others where we have different lives, other truths, other loves. Some of those destinations are foreign to what we know, just as some are only minutely different. Still, in your dreams, you notice the difference, notice what is not quite right.

When you fall asleep at night – as you must – there is no one to help you, no one can follow you, you are alone. We are all alone. There is no one to pull you from that hole which will take you into another reality. When you go there – you must survive as best you can.

It was Doctor Edith Stewart, who was the first ‘sleep astronaut’ – it was she who found a method to catapult herself outside of dreaming into these other layers of reality, and to return. It was Dr Stewart who found that when we die (as it was once known) it was only the door closing on this reality and in turn, we were forbidden to travel back. That is why many people ‘died’ in their sleep – the door was closed to them while they were elsewhere.

But there are more than just benign creatures out there, more than just friendly ghosts inhabiting the other worlds. The nightmares that we have as children, are truly there. Waiting. Hoping we will return. And still we fight and claw our way back to this reality for a few more hours.

In the old days, in your time, folks would wish one another a ‘good night’ – how little they knew. It is much wiser to wish your loved one ‘all the very best of luck’, for as soon as they are asleep, they will be on their own in worlds where nothing is real and on journeys from which they may never return.Sleep well, travel well. Come home.

There is no one to call on for help, out there – remember that.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Man at 221A Baker Street ( 1 & 2)

background_baker_street

1.Introduction

I have been living beneath the strange man who lives upstairs, nigh on ten months now. There is much comings and goings at all times of the night, and although I have reported such extravagances to the authorities, I have been informed that Mister Holmes is a singular man and as such, is prone to eccentricities.

Mrs Hudson, his housekeeper (if indeed that is what she is) – is to be found, on a regular basis, lying at the bottom of the stairs with an anatomy book and a bottle of gin.

Mister Holmes has a gentleman caller by the name of Doctor Watson, who seems a smidge too normal to be an acquaintance of the mad man. Still this world welcomes many types.
The other evening, I answered the door, as Mrs Hudson was slightly inebriated and Mr Holmes was nowhere to be found.
I was a little miffed and answered the door, abruptly.

“Yes!” Said I.
At the door was a six-foot tall woman, with a great deal of facial hair for one, I would assume, so delicate. She had the most brutish shoulders, but I attempted not to stare as the poor soul, who has probably been a victim of such wickedness throughout her pitiful life.
When all of a sudden, in the deepest of deep tones, comes a voice:

“It is I,” says the woman.
“Who is I?” Asks I.
“Why, it is me, Sherlock, your neighbour and friend from the top of the stairs,” says she.

Then on closer inspection, I see that it is indeed, Mr Sherlock Holmes in what can only be described as an excellent disguise.
“Well done,” says I.
“For what?” Asks the genius, that is Holmes.
“Why, the disguise, “I add.
“What disguise? Oh this. I was out with Mister Oscar Wilde and I had nowhere to put my key,” says Sherlock, as he runs up the stairs giving one the certain impression he is being pursued.

And talking of being pursued. Last Thursday I happened to look out of the window on to a sunny Baker Street when I see Mister Holmes running as if Old Nick was chasing him to the very heart of Hell. When I see that indeed he is being chased by the biggest hound I have ever set eyes upon. Mister Holmes keeps running, back and forth, back and forth, and each time he passes, he shouts one word that I may understand.

The first time he passed, the word was ‘Throw’ and the next time, a few minutes later, ‘The’, then even later still, ‘Dog’, followed by ‘A’, then ‘Bone’.

‘Throw the dog a bone’, was his secret message. How clever. I shouted on Mrs Hudson but she was in the process of drinking herself into oblivion, so I picked up the first bone I found in Mister’s Holmes’ parlour. Later I found out that it was a treasured dinosaur bone, still it stopped the dog.

Apparently the huge dog had been following Holmes and Watson since their little outing to the south-west of England. I helped Mister Holmes up the stairs as he was particularly flustered and looked as if he might collapse at any moment.
When we entered the parlour, once more, Dr Watson was sitting doing nothing much, other than looking at his fingers.
I helped Mr Holmes to a seat. “Why there you are Holmes,” said Watson, quite eagerly. “Have you ever noticed Holmes that each person’s finger has a different pattern – and may actually differ from all others in this world,” said Watson, smugly.

“And your point is?” Asked a rather angry Sherlock.
“Well, it could be used to solve crimes and such,” he said, even smugger.
“Watson?”
“Yes, Holmes,” said an expectant Watson.
“Do shut up,” said Holmes, obviously having had enough of the little doctor.

One night, last weekend, Holmes and Watson did invite me out (not with Mister Wilde) but to help them solve a crime.

We entered the unsavoury East End of London, upon a dark and foggy night, on the chance that we might apprehend a devious fiend. From all accounts, he was short of height but carried a step-ladder with him, in order to do dastardly deeds – one of which was to unzip ladies’ dresses. Naturally the dress would fall and everyone would give a cheer. Each time, he carried out such an outrage, he left a card with the motto:

“You have just met Jack, the Zipper.”
As Mister Holmes says, he must be caught and we are just the men to do it.

 

2.The Strange Case of Jack the Zipper as told by Doctor Watson.

Of all the cases that my friend and colleague, Sherlock and I, have attended this was possibly the strangest.

It seems that humanity can know no bottom level to the depths of its depravity. When one thinks that one has heard all about the miscreants and their dastardly deeds, along comes another horrid and dark crime more heinous than the previous.

So if you are ready to listen and your loins are girded, then I will continue.

It had been a rather quiet afternoon, except for Sherlock who was in his room playing the most hideous music on his violin. He said that he called the music ‘punk’ and that one day all polite society would come to know its charms.

I very much doubt it. I very much doubt it, indeed. The song he had been composing was a little ditty called ‘The Queen Doesn’t Wear Any Knickers’. I must say that Sherlock sometimes walks a fine line between being eccentric and a very good chance of losing his head one day.

That aside, the afternoon was interrupted by Lestrade of the Yard calling upon us. He asked us to sit down and for Holmes to stop playing that wretched music – Holmes was reluctant to stop as he was half-way through his favourite song: ‘Anarchy In The Vicar’s Drawing Room’.

But stop he did and Lestrade told us of the fiend who was running amok in the East End of this fine city.

“He may be a midget, but he carries a ladder of six-foot or more long, which assists him in climbing up behind the woman and undoing her dress,” said the policeman. “He pulls down their zip and the dress falls to the floor. Then he shouts ‘you have been done by Jack the Zipper’. You can imagine the pain and distress this causes,” added Lestrade.

“The man is a blighter, there I’ve said it,” said I.

Jack the Zipper’s techniques seemed to perplex Holmes.

“Why aren’t the women aware of him putting a ladder on their backs?” Asked my friend and a good question it was too.

“Because the man is a fiend and that is what fiends do,” said Lestrade convinced that his explanation would suffice. With that Lestrade was out the door and into a Hansom cab back to the Yard.

I had grown accustomed to that look on my friend’s face, and knew it meant that Sherlock would lock himself into his bedroom for several hours while he cogitated the facts. I heard him start the first few bars of ‘Never Mind the Futtocks’, and decided to give him some time to himself, while I went looking for Mrs Hudson.

I didn’t have far to go as Mrs Hudson was lying face down on the floor, outside the young gentleman’s apartments at 221A. I had to admit that Mrs H was particularly heavy that day (which I later found out was to do with the amount of anatomy books she had concealed about her person) and so I decided to knock the door of the good gentleman to assist in her removal.

I was not ready for the wonders that awaited me in that grotto of 221A. The boy is a genius of Sherlock proportions.

In the corner of his main room stood a large contraption which he called a ‘radio’ or some such nonsense. He instructed me that it was to communicate with person or persons out with our immediate area. I must say, I’d never heard the likes.

I was about to attend to Mrs Hudson who was moaning quite loudly in the hallway, when a voice came through the contraption.

“Allo, ma name ees, Guglielmo. I am 13 yearsa of age. I have invented this radio thing to find young ladies of 13 years of age. Any ladies out there want to meet up, you calla me. Ask for tha Marconi family and we can hava kisses all night.”

Then there was a noise and the thing started buzzing. The young man from 221A, thumped the contraption which stopped the noise but also the contraption, apparently.

As the young man from 221A told me, he liked to invent things. I wondered if perhaps he could be useful for future cases. He then took me into a back room to show me his most important invention. It is called a televisor or television (as his granny had named it). The young man asked to be excused and I couldn’t help myself but throw a switch on the box to see what happened.

Again, it was noisy and crackling then a picture – without the word of a lie – a picture of a boy’s face. It was in monotones but still discernible as a boy. Then he started to speak, in a very strong Scottish accent, I may add.

“My name is Willie Logie Baird. I’ve invented this wee machine which is a scunner to work, in order to meet lassies. I live in Helensburgh and there’s only me, my mammy, and my new wee brother John. I need to meet nice lassies – so if there are any oot there, just ask for the Bairds. We can meet up for a smootch.”

That too then crackled and afterwards the picture disappeared. I was about to tell the young man who had re-entered the room, when Mister Holmes burst into the apartments shouting the words:

“There is no time to lose, the game is afoot.”

Apparently we were to go to the East End that very evening to apprehend the rascal known as Jack. Mister Holmes’ plan was simple – he would dress as a woman (something he felt very comfortable with) and would act as the bait for the Zipper fiend.

The three of us hid outside the public house known as the ‘Cocken-knee Bar’ – where only Cocken-knees were allowed to drink. I had asked our young man from the flat 221A to build a smaller version of the radio so that we may talk to each other, even although we were not standing next to each other.  And that he did. Except he only made one of them. So really there wasn’t much point in having only one radio contraption (or walkie-talkie as his granny called it).

He apologised and said he would keep watch instead. Mister Holmes stuck the contraption under his dress for safe keeping.

Then Sherlock wandered into the Cocken-knee Bar looking like a right trollop (I think he may have done this before).

Things were going all right, Sherlock (or Eileen as he was known in the bar) was the centre of attraction of several men, when a little midget ran into the public house with a step-ladder and flung it up against Sherlock’s dress. The midget was about to undo the zipper when a voice came out from Sherlock’s undergarments.

“I woulda likea to meet young ladies. My namea is Marconi….”

The midget fell off the ladder in shock and me and the young man burst through the door and captured the fiend that is (or was) Jack the Zipper.

A job well done, even although I say so myself.

We lost Sherlock that night as he apparently ended up on a ship going to Hong Kong. He told me months later that he had been working on a case but to this day, he still receives letter from China addressed to a Miss Eileen Holmes.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weird Town

weird

One

Sandyway Beach was a little town with no more ambition than the frogs which sang it to sleep at night. It hadn’t really changed that much in the two hundred years it had been in existence, but it was still a nice little place to be born, live ,and die in.

Visitors were few and far between given that it was so far off the beaten track; the ones who did turn up tended to be lost or pretended they were when they found they’d driven all that way just to turn up in that little town.

But if you could see the beauty in the place and not ask too much out of life then it was a perfect place to waste away your days.

Wars had been declared and settled, rulers had come and gone, storms had kicked up a fuss and died down again, and not of those things ever touched Sandyway Beach.

Perhaps the universe was saving up all the town’s triumphs and disasters for one throw of the dice and perhaps that throw came in the shape of Clive Otterman.

Clive had once been a strong, fit man who could take on anything and come good, but little by little, bit by bit, life kicked the crap out of him until he held up his heart in surrender and decided to see out his days just sitting by the sea. He felt that life wouldn’t come looking for him under these circumstances; it would pass over him like the angels in the Bible and smite some other sucker.

I guess Clive had always underestimated life – in the way that we all do – because fate doesn’t always attack in big slashes and stabs – sometimes it kills by a thousand cuts and fate wasn’t quite done with Clive yet.

He’d lived long enough to know that life sometimes worked in mysterious way, truly mysterious ways – not Biblical, just those little surprises which sometimes happened at the right time to the right people. That’s what occurred with Tommy Speak, who was the man who lived on the beach and whom life had decided was ready for a little miracle.

If one word was used to describe Tommy it was ‘ordinary’ – in the way that all animals clinging to a rock circling the Sun are ordinary. His school report called him a normal kid – nothing outstanding. His Geography teacher had written ‘ordinary’ and left it at that. Except what is ordinary today could have been considered exceptional many years before. If an ordinary man had stood in the middle of the American Civil War with a camera/phone he would have been considered anything but ordinary. But look what you’ve made me do – I’m well off the story. So just believe me when I tell you that Tommy was the most ordinary person you could ever meet.

Then Tommy met Clive and the rest, as they say, is one huge, confusing mess. I’m not telling you here and now that Clive and Tommy were somehow called on by Heaven to do what they did, I’m just trying to say that from where I was standing it very much looked that way.

Two

Tommy never really asked for normal in his life, it was just the way he was put together and I never really knew if Tommy was just plain lucky or if the universe liked him so much that it gave him a helping hand from time to time.

One night, just before he headed back to the beach, Tommy lifted what he thought was his jacket – but in fact it turned out to be the jacket of one Jeremiah Andrews. I think that the fact the label inside said ‘Property of Jeremiah Andrews’ would have been a giveaway.

That was the evening of the Grand Night Dance. Everyone in town had been at the hall for a jig to thank the Founding Fathers for putting Sandyway Beach exactly where it should be – in the perfect location. Needless to say, Tommy had been drinking Archie’s famous Crab Beach Brew and this left him with the feeling that he could take on the world.

There had been stories passed around town for years about the kind of business that Jeremiah was operating; it covered everything from diamond smuggling to selling donkey meat to the Mexicans and everything in between. To be truthful, those were actually some of the better Jeremiah stories; as the others would have made your hair stand on end – assuming that you had hair,that is.

Tommy swayed and swaggered his way down the cliff path towards the beach, something he had accomplished in many conditions (sometimes it was him, sometimes it was the weather, sometimes it was both). He could do it with his eyes closed and he normally did, but this night he had a strange feeling that he was being watched. I think most folks have got that ability to know when pair of eyes are drilling into the back of their heads.

Suddenly right in front of him, like an apparition, was Everard Smithton.

“Howdee, Tomaso,” as that was the way Everard liked to talk.

“You almost made my hair turn white, Everard,” screamed Tommy who didn’t have any hair.

“Sorry Tomaso but I hate walking back this way alone, especially with that thing on the loose,” said Everard in an accent that was hard to pinpoint (and  I’m talking about a continent, never mind narrowing it down to a country).

“What thing?” Asked Tommy, who actually wasn’t really caring.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got a smoke?” Asked Everard.

Now here’s the funny thing, Tommy didn’t smoke but he immediately reached into the top pocket of Jeremiah’s jacket and there were cigarettes and a lighter.

“Well I’ll be….” said Tommy and handed the stuff over to Everard.

“Much obliged,” said Everard as he lit his cigarette.

The two of them were just jumping from the last rock on the sandy beach when the thing that had gotten loose moved towards them.

“What are those two eyes?” Asked Everard, nervously

“Well, my guess is that they’re two eyes,” said Tommy sarcastically (Crab Brew always made him sarcastic).

Then the moonlight caught the animal full on. It was a leopard which had escaped from Fanny’s Victorian Circus which was exhibiting at Seapoint, two towns over. The leopard was stealthy crawling towards them, the way that cats do just before they go in for the kill.

As the leopard started to charge, Tommy went into the right pocket of Jeremiah’s jacket and there was a pistol which he pulled out and shot at the leopard. Tommy missed but the leopard wasn’t hanging around to try again.

“Well I’ll be..” said Tommy.

When they got to Everard’s caravan, they said goodnight and Tommy and his pistol headed for his home on the beach.

On the other side of town, Jeremiah Andrews was just getting out of his truck when a large leopard jumped him. He went into his right pocket to get his pistol and the last thing that went through his mind was: why had he just pulled out a half-eaten sandwich (one that Tommy had left in his jacket for the walk home). By the time Jeremiah got to hospital he was stone cold dead.

As Tommy entered his boat-on-the-beach which he called home, he put his hand in his left pocket thinking the key would be there and in fact found several thousand dollars all tied up with string.
“We’ll I’ll be…” said Tommy, realising this had been one of his better days.

Clive Otterman was not a shy man, nor a man who had been known to be the crazy one in a group. He was just a guy who, it could be said – had lived, and then one day when he was long dead someone would say, ‘I wonders what ever happened to that Clive Letterman?’ then the guy who asked the question would sip his drink and forget why he asked.

Now to be forgotten ain’t a bad thing, it ain’t a bad thing at all, but each of us would like to think that maybe just once in a while someone would have a thought about you and perhaps smile or even shed a tear that you were long gone.

There was a box under Clive Otterman’s bed where he kept his quiet desperation. It wasn’t something that he took out in public to be stared and pointed and poked at, nope, Clive’s desperation was kept well buried and he found that bringing it out in the middle of the night was the best solution.

Each of us lives a kind of desperate life, unless you’re real stupid and you don’t question a single thing (there are folks who say that not questioning is the happiest way to live, but I would have to question that – yeh, that was me being ironic). What I’m trying to say about Clive was that he could get a little addicted to feeling desperate and when he wasn’t feeling desperate, he would start to worry about not having something to worry him – wow, when you start down the irony path, it gets hard to put the brakes on.

Desperation fuelled him, he needed to worry to work, or move, or do things which meant that when he was happy, he was the laziest sonofabitch that ever sat on his bee-hind.

I guess what I ‘m really trying to tell you, is that Clive was born with his collar turned up, his head down and was just spending time waiting on his death without hurting anyone else or himself. You’d think that life would say that was a reason to leave the poor sucker alone and let him get on with it – but you’d be wrong. Life had put a tick next to his name the way the Revenue people do and that could only mean one thing – trouble.

The night that Clive and Tommy came together in the universe, I guess the planets were in some sort of weird alignment but come together they did.  Clive had been down on the beach filling his lungs with good sea air before he planned to go too bed when he heard a gunshot and a man shouting ‘We’ll I’ll be…’ in a manner that suggested that the man’s nose was bleeding.

Clive ran to the little boat house on the beach expecting to find a dead lover and someone with a revolver standing over the body. Instead he found Tommy who had just shot the tip of his nose off with his careless use of a firearm.

“We’ll I’ll be, if tat ain’t the weirdest ting…,”  Tommy was talking through his bleeding nose and it made him sound comical.

“I was so sure there weren’t anymore bullets in the ting…”

“Seems you were wrong,” said Clive forgetting about his quiet desperation for a few minutes.

“Do you see the end of my nose anywhere?” Tommy asked.

“Well there’s a question I didn’t think I was gonna be asked when I got out ma bed this morning,” said Clive who looked down and found the end of Tommy’s nose.

“Is this it?” Said Clive proudly holding the nose tip aloft.

“Dat’s an olive, I tink,” Said Tommy who wasn’t about to have an olive stitched on to the end of his nose.

“Then I guess you blew the end of your nose to the four corners of this room.”

“Are you saying ma nose has vaporized?” Asked Tommy.

“I guess I am, by the way my name is Clive, Clive Otterman and you are?”

“In a lot of pain,” said Tommy in a sort of smarty pants way.

“I’m going to take you to the hos-pee-tal right now and then we are going to become good friends, I can feel it,” Said Clive in a genuine way.

“You would do dat for me, take me to the hop-i-tal?” Said Tommy with tears in his eyes. 

And so that was the night that Clive and Tommy became the best of buds, although it wasn’t going to be an easy friendship nor a particularly uneventful one but then Angels and their friendships never are.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Time Flies and Hope Floats

friends

Time Flies

One morning when Olivia was still half asleep, she heard her Grandma talking to her Grandpa all about things that fly. At least she thought that was what they were talking about because the last thing she heard her Grandpa say was…

“…It’s funny how time flies.”

Then Grandpa headed out the door hollerin’ and laughin’ to himself, so hard that he was sneezing all the way down the path.

“Serves the old goat right,” said Grandma.

“It sure does,” said Olivia without any real idea what she was talking about.

Olivia had made a note to herself that when she got to school she’d ask her teacher about Time and why it flew about the place. However she didn’t reckon on meeting with Smiling Joe, first. This was the boy who knew everything about everything and all the rest there was to know.

“Can I walk with you to school, Missy?” Asked Joe.

“Sure,” said Olivia, who secretly liked Joe. “What cha been doing?”

“Down the creek, Missy, trying to catch me a big old fella’ by the name of Captain.”

As well as knowing everything about everything, Joe was also the best fisherman this side of the Hill. Well, that was according to Joe, at least.

Olivia looked around but couldn’t see any fish.

“Heck, I’m savin’ catchin’ the Captain for another day.” Then Joe whistled a little tune that Olivia liked and they walked on to school together.

“Joe, can I ask you a question?” Asked Olivia.

“If I don’t know the answer then it ain’t worth knowing,” said Joe, kinda confidently.

So Olivia asked him if Time really did fly and Joe told her that it surely did and if you sat on the Old Creek Road, the one that led out-of-town……

“….And were real patient, then eventually you’d see Time flying passed you real fast.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

Olivia was pleased with that answer and started to whistle Joe’s little tune as they walked on to school together.The end of the week couldn’t come fast enough for Olivia and so, on Saturday around lunchtime, she headed down to the Old Creek Road and sat down and waited on Time flying passed her.

An hour passed, except it seemed like forever to Olivia – when suddenly Herbert, the dog from Asker’s Farm, came wandering along the road.

“What cha doing?” Asked Herbert.

“Ain’t it obvious, I’m waiting on Time flying passed,” said a very important Olivia.

“You are? It does?” Asked a bewildered Herbert. “Then mind if I wait too?”

“Don’t mind if you do,” said Olivia.

So Herbert sat beside Olivia, really excited about the arrival of Time.

While they were waiting, Herbert and Olivia talked about this and that, for Olivia knew a lot about this and that. They were having a real good time when Scrimpy The Ass, from the next town over, also happened to be walking passed.

“What cha doing?” Asked Scrimpy The Ass.

“Why we’re waiting on Time flying passed.”

“Well I never,” exclaimed Scrimpy. “Mind if I join you guys?”

And both Olivia and Herbert said they’d be delighted if Scrimpy joined them. So Scrimpy sat down and waited.

The whole time the three of them were talking about this and that, since it seemed Scrimpy was quite knowledgeable about this and that as well.

The afternoon grew old and it was time to go home, and since Olivia had such a great time with her new pals, Herbert and Scrimpy, she’d forgotten about waiting for Time to fly.

“Perhaps we can do this again next Saturday?” Asked Herbert.

And they all agreed that it sounded like a great plan and so that is what they did.

Hope Floats

The moment she opened her eyes, she knew it was a Saturday. This was Olivia’s very best day of the week since folks were always asking her to do things on Sundays; but not on Saturdays. Olivia couldn’t stop smiling.

“Mornin’ Grandma,” said Olivia as she skipped into the room.

“Why sweetpea, you is sure bouncing today,” said Grandma. “Now you are going to have to eat your breakfast before you do anymore skippin’. You hear me?”

Olivia just nodded, it was easier just to agree with her grandma when she was talking like that.

“Where’s Grandpa?” Asked Olivia.

“Why sweetpea, he’s out in the yard feeling sorry for himself. Real sorry. A few hours in the fresh country air and he’ll be right as rain again.”

When Olivia finished her breakfast and had helped her grandma with the washing, she ran out into the yard to see what was wrong with her best pal.

“What’s up, Grandpa?”

The old man turned and smiled, “Mornin’ best friend, you is looking ready for living,” he said. “Ready for livin’,” and then he chuckled so hard that he nearly fell off his stool.

“Grandma says you’re feeling sorry for something,” said Olivia, helping her grandpa back on the stool.

“It is something and nothin’, sweetpea, something and nothin’,” said Grandpa.

And then Grandpa explained that he had lost some work when the Shanter family, in the next valley, had decided to move on to somewhere nearer the coast.

“Just means we’ll be little poorer for a while, but I tell you sweetpea, something always comes down that road, just when you least expect it.It might not be what you are looking for but it sure will be what you are needing right there and then.”

So Olivia asked her grandpa what it was he was expecting to come down the road, and he just turned to her and said with a smile, “why hope, little one, hope.”

And with that Olivia walked off to where she knew she would find the things she was looking for. The road was just outside of town and was called Old Creek. It had been a turnpike once upon a time, but no one really used it to get anywhere, anymore.

Yet Olivia knew that if anything was going to come past it would be on the Old Creek, so she sat down and made herself real comfortable. Olivia just sat there waiting, and waiting and waiting.

“These thing sure take a long time,” she said to no one in particular. Just then Herbert turned up.

“Thought I’d find you here, Olly,” said Herbert. He was the dog from Asker’s Farm and tended to go walkabout on a Saturday. The Askers used to try to tie him up but he’d just chew through the rope and go walking. So they eventually gave up and let Herbert do his own thing.

“What cha doing?” Asked Herbert.

“Why you always ask me that, Herbert. Ain’t it obvious?” Asked Olivia.

“Not really,” said Herbert.

“I’m waiting on Hope coming down the road. My Grandpa says he needs some and I thought if I wait here, I could get him some,” she said.

“Mind if I wait with you?” Asked Herbert.

“Don’t mind if you do,” said Olivia.

So they waited and talked, then talked and waited, but Hope seemed to be taking its time.

They were having a real interesting time when Scrimpy the Ass, from the next town over, also happened to be walking past.

“What cha doing?” Asked Scrimpy The Ass.

“Why we’re waiting on Hope coming down the road,” said Herbert.

“Why so?” Asked Scrimpy in his funny way of talking.

“’Cause Olivia’s grandpa needs some real quick,” Herbert replied.

“Mind if I wait with you?” Asked Scrimpy.

“Don’t mind if you do,” said Olivia. “Make yourself comfortable.”

So they sat and talked about this, and that, and everything in between.

Then Herbert looked at Olivia and said,”D’you mind if I ask a question?”

“Sure,” said Olivia and Scrimpy.

“Well, I know this sounds strange but I just wondered what Hope looked like, in case I don’t recognize it.”

“Well, according to my Grandpa, it won’t be what you’re expecting but it’ll be what you need,” said Olivia, wisely.

So Olivia, Herbert and Scrimpy all looked down the road looking for one thing and expecting another. And what they didn’t know, was that each of them was looking for a different type of hope.

By the time it came to sundown, they had wondered if maybe Hope had passed them by while they were talking.

Then Scrimpy said something that had them all thinking:

“Maybe your grandpa, has to sit on the road himself to get his own Hope. Maybe you only find your own. And maybe us talking and being friends was the Hope we needed for today and that is what we got.”

And they all agreed that perhaps you can only look for your own Hope and that it doesn’t ever look like what you were searching for.

“Next Saturday?” Asked Olivia.

“Sure,” said Herbert.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Scrimpy.

And each of them headed off in different directions, and each of them with a little Hope inside.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Expecting To Fly

girl

You could smell the bitter-sweet fumes carried on the warm winds long before you could see it. Then there was a ‘putt-putt-putt’ as his air machine descended towards the town. Everyone was excited, and I mean everyone, even Mrs Watson and she never got worked up about anything. Like she said, she was saving herself for Jesus when he returned to Earth.

I was thinking to myself that maybe Jesus wouldn’t make Culpepper City his first priority and perhaps Mrs Watson would have to wait some. But then what did I know?

Culpepper wasn’t really a city, in fact it took a huge stretch of the imagination to see it even as a town. We had one main street and nothing much else. The founding fathers had big plans for the settlement and had decided on calling it a city from the word go, as a signal of the things that would come to pass. To be honest, we’re still waiting.

The railroad had built their tracks about 100 miles to the north even though Culpepper had sent the great and good to convince them otherwise. There was talk that the city council had even tried bribery, but these rail folks were being bribed by bigger fish than us and so it made no difference.

When Captain J. Welbeck announced in the papers that he was going to fly from Maine to San Diego in a craft that he had designed himself, well it was all we could talk about, try as hard as we might not to.

Culpepper City was in the middle of nowhere, and we only got on the map ‘cause the Pony Express had once used it as a place to change horses. Now the Mayor felt that if the Cap’n (as he called him) proved that Culpepper City was a natural stopping off point for these here flying machines, then maybe we’d grow to be a real city in two shakes of a tail.

The Captain’s people had telegraphed ahead with instructions on what the flying machine needed in the way of landing. A flat surface, not too stony, not too grassy that ‘stretched for a good distance’. No one knew how far that was, but the whole of the town got to clearing the long field behind Dee’s farm. Every stone was lifted, every bush cut and every blade of grass tamed within an inch of its life.

Some of the better off ladies in town sent for new dresses from a catalogue that Mrs Miller kept in her store. I even heard tell that some of the women of Culpepper were hoping that the Captain might be single and ask one of them to marry him. No one had seen a picture of the Captain, but the women were willing to take their chances given that the alternative was dying an old maid and being buried in the unmarried section of the cemetery. Culpepper did all it’s sorting in the graveyard to save the Lord some time on judgement day, at least that’s what the Pastor told us at Sunday School.

So the big day arrived and all of the townsfolk had been standing beside the long field since sun-up which at that time of year was about 4.30. We didn’t see the machine until late in the afternoon and yet no one had moved an inch in case they missed the most important thing to happen to Culpepper since Billy the Kid had robbed the Culpepper City Farm Friendly Bank.

And then there it was, coming out of the sky and heading for the line of flags that the folks had put down as instructed in the telegram.

There was whooping and hollering and young Bessie asked her Mom if it was an angel. I had never been so excited in all my life and as it got closer and the noise got louder, my heart started to beat real fast. No one had ever seen a flying machine before and some folks fell to their knees and started to pray and there was a lot of ‘thank you Jesus’ as if we were witnessing a miracle – which we probably were.

It fell slowly on to the long field and as the wheels touched the ground safely, everyone started to ‘cheer’. Then the flying machine bumped back into the air and the townsfolk all went ‘ohh’ because they were thinking it was going away again. Then it landed, bumped, lifted into the air a couple of more times all followed by ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the folks until it came to a stop at the end of the field. Any further and it would have flattened Jake’s prize bull.

Captain Welbeck got out to a hero’s welcome. He was carried back to where the Mayor was standing on a box with a speech in his hand.

“Good people of Culpepper City,” he started, as the Captain remained sitting on the shoulders of the townsfolk. “It is my privilege, nay, it is my honor to welcome the brave flyer Captain J. Welbeck to our great city”, and while the Captain was sitting on the shoulders he took off his flying hat and glasses and it was then that we realized that the Captain was a woman.

“Captain Jenny Welbeck,” she told the crowd who dropped her to the ground in shock. The single ladies, tutted, shouted ‘well really’ and stormed off home.

Mrs Watson said that Jesus would get to hear about this, and if she was any judge, he wouldn’t be happy. Women weren’t meant to fly and that was an end to it.

The Mayor’s wife, who had the bedroom repainted several times until she was happy with it and one, she assumed would be fit for a flying hero suddenly changed her mind and said the Captain could stay at Culpepper City Hotel as she was expecting visitors any day now. I’m thinking that the fact that the Captain was young and pretty didn’t help her case much.

The Mayor asked if I would escort the Captain to the hotel on two accounts, I reckon. One was that the hotel belonged to my Mama and two, the Mayor’s wife had suddenly felt faint and demanded to be taken home that instant. “No ifs or buts, Jacob, take me home – now!” And that was that.

Mama gave Jenny the best room in the house, and told her that no way was she accepting any payment for the room. Jenny tried to insist but she ain’t seen my Mama when she’s in full flow. It’s her way or else.

After a good meal, Jenny said goodnight but that she might have a surprise for us in the morning. I couldn’t get to sleep that night thinking what the prize might be and then over a big plate of grits and eggs the next morning she asked if me and Mama would like to go up in the flying machine. Mama said God hadn’t given her wings. She said thank you kindly but there was no way she was getting in that contraption. I looked at Mama and she just said ‘No!’ but she knew I wouldn’t shut up until she said ‘yes’. Which is what she did, eventually.

There was an excitement in the pit of my stomach and my breathing got real hard but I was determined that I was going up. Jenny made me sit in the front seat (after she’d cleared out all her stuff) and then went to the propeller and pulled it real hard. Once it was started and whizzing around, Jenny jumped in.

She took the machine up to the end of the long field and then got out and turned the thing around then just as easily jumped in again.

Jenny shouted “Are you ready?” I stuck my thumb in the air to tell her I was and soon we were shooting down that field, fast like. Then a weird thing happened, the ground fell away and we were flying. Man it felt good. I looked over the edge to see Mama crossing herself. She’d be asking God to take care of me. If we climbed any higher, I could probably tell him myself.

Nothing in the world can get you ready for flying, it ain’t like anything you’ve ever experienced and the first time is extra special. We flew over town and I could see that Jenkers was lying on his roof without a stitch of clothes on. I always wondered what he did up on that roof. I could see the guys rounding up the cattle over on the Four Circles ranch. The wind was blowing in my face and hair and I didn’t ever want to come down. That is until Jenny said we’d need to head back on account of the fuel getting low.

That was the best day of my life, ever.Jenny left that afternoon and headed somewhere south and west and I wondered if they too, thought she was a man.

A few years later, Jenny flew across the Pacific alone and broke all kinds of records.One day – a while back – out in the middle of Arizona, she disappeared. They never found her body.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

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Santa’s Last Present

pascalcampion

At the end of it all, he always felt the same, he could sleep for a year (at least) except he’d be needed long before then.

Mistress Claus knew what to expect. He’d be grumpy and tired and full of stories of what went wrong here, or what went right there. He never found the reindeer any company, those kids were working flat-out and there wasn’t any time to talk.

The elves had their break. He gave them from Christmas day until the 20th of January, then they all had to report fit and strong and ready for the next year’s onslaught. It was tiring making up the lists of who should and who should, get presents. But it had to be done.

On the morning of the 26th, Mistress Claus usually gave her husband a cup of tea in bed, followed by toast and jam. He might stay in bed until 3pm, before he even thought of standing up. Let’s face it, he was tired.

By tea-time of the 26th they would be all packed and ready to go. It was always Santa’s last present – to himself and to his good wife; two weeks at their little holiday home just north of Tornio.

They’d climb up those wooden stairs, place a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, and the rest of the days were theirs.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

painting: Pascal Campion

Thing and the Star Whisperers

thing

Thing sat watching, just like he always had, just like he always would, waiting on his mother and father to return, and for them all to be a family once again.

Sometimes Thing got so caught up in his own loneliness that he forgot all about the good stuff in his life; that, happened to everyone, he guessed.

One night, just as the sky was cooling down from a scorching red, Thing noticed a small hut over to the left of his cave, a building that he had never noticed before. Perhaps the trees had hidden the wooden shack, or perhaps Thing hadn’t looked hard enough.

So after he had a nice meal and had left a note at the cave door – ‘Dear Mother and Father, I am down at a hut below the cave, please wait on me’ – he set off.

Leaving a note was something Thing always did, just in case his parents returned while Thing was away from the cave. His mother and father had been gone for such a long time, but Thing had never given up hope of seeing them again – not once.

The hut at the bottom of the hill had seen better days, thought Thing, and there were gaps between the wooden walls. Through these gaps Thing could see the crackling light of a fire: someone was inside.

Thing attempted to look through the cracks but it was too dark and so decided to knock on the door. What was the worst that could happen? (Although there were times when Thing thought that and the worse did actually happen). Thing knocked again.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” said a gruff old voice from within.

Thing knocked again.

“Where’s the fire? Where’s the fire?” shouted the voice and Thing felt like telling the person that the fire was in his hut, but that probably wasn’t what the gruff voice meant.

When the door opened, it seemed that neither of them had expected what they found. The gruff voice was actually a pleasant old man, and the pleasant old man had expected a kid from the town.
“Hello,” said the old man. “Please do come in.”

Thing found the inside of the hut much nicer than the outside and told the man this.

“Many folks have said this. I must say I decorated it to my taste but it seems to please most who come visiting.”

Thing and the man, whose name was Ralph, sat down to a long and friendly conversation. Thing told him that he hadn’t noticed the hut before and was surprised as he had been living in the cave above for a very long time. Ralph said that he wasn’t surprised, for most people only saw things when they wanted to. Sometimes you only see things when you go looking for them.

Thing told Ralph that to be truthful he hadn’t been all that interested in seeing a hut and that maybe Ralph’s theory was wrong. Ralph chuckled because, as he told Thing, he was never wrong.

Then Thing told Ralph that he sometimes felt lonely and Ralph wondered what Thing meant.

“I keep waiting on my mother and father to return, that makes me lonely,” he told Ralph.

Then Ralph mentioned that he had a story to tell and that Thing should listen to it.

Ralph told Thing that many, many years before Thing was born, probably a million years before, some stars exploded and the core of those stars were scattered across the universe. Some of those particles were, in fact, what made up Thing and Ralph – even although they looked different, they were basically the same inside.

“Now,” said Ralph, “if you are made up of parts of the distant universe then when the universe shakes, a part of you must shake too. You see, we are all one and a whole. You, me and the universe.”

Thing nodded, although he was struggling a bit to understand it all, he felt that given time he would.

Ralph continued: “The universe vibrates and so whispers into our ears and souls. Some hear it, and other don’t. Some hear much of it, and some hear a little. Those who can hear the stars whispering loudly are the writers, or composers, or painters. Some hear plainly what the universe is saying and these are known as great women and men.

“We are all star whisperers,” said Ralph. “All you have to do is listen.”

And with that Thing bid Ralph a good night and said he would listen to the universe on the way home.

As he sat at his cave waiting on his family, Thing began to understand what Ralph meant. Thing was sure he could hear the stars whispering – and for the first time, in a long time, Thing didn’t feel so alone.
bobby stevenson 2016

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The Book Keeper

book

It had been his job as long as anyone could remember. He was the Book Keeper and he enjoyed all that the job entailed. Sure he never slept, but wasn’t his life the greatest gift a soul could be given?

He couldn’t remember being taught his craft, and yet he had always known what to do, when to do it and how to do it. ‘Funny that’, he had thought to himself, many times, when he had a spare second.

He was the Book Keeper and as the book-keeper, he kept books. Seemed simple – but yet it wasn’t.

He had to ensure that every book was carefully placed in its correct shelf. That every page was exactly as was required and that all the information was up to date.

His main problem was not to lose pages when he moved the books closer to their correct areas in the library. A page lost could mean the difference between life and death, and the losing of one page tended to mean that many more would follow. The bindings would decay and more pages would be lost.

For Book Keeper, the job should really have read, Soul Keeper. For each book was the representation of a soul currently living.

Therefore, when a page was lost, that individual forgot some information, or some memory was wiped. As the books got older more and more pages would slip away. There was no point in the Book Keeper looking for the lost pages, they all lay at the bottom of the library and he could never know into which books they should be placed.

As some souls grew closer together, the Book Keeper would move those particular books, closer and closer. It was the souls themselves that decided on their fate, the Book Keeper only moved the books to reflect the current state of play. As the individuals grew further apart, so he would move them to different parts of the library.

When a book reflected a soul who had led a good life, and that soul had reached its return date, the book would be placed in the archives. If the book was corrupted and stained by a life badly lived, then the books were thrown into the fire at the rear of the library. Nowadays the Book Keeper had noted that there was more book burning than archiving, but then all life went through cycles. There was nothing new in that.

If the Book Keeper had a sadness, it was this, he would have loved to have told the owners of the books, how fragile their books really were. How quickly some books fell apart, and how, on the odd occasion, a book would tumble from the shelf and be lost forever.

If they could only see what he could see. How a book owner should make the most of the pages they had; a book was only in the library one time, and one time only. If life was a perfect structure, there would be no separate areas of the library, or different levels of shelfs, but then, the Book Keeper only looked after the books. He hadn’t built the library or devised its rules.

That had all existed long before he had arrived.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

The Street With No Name

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She lived on a street with no name; the street that is, not her. She was called Conchita and she had spent all her life on the no-name street.

When she was young, her mother took her to a fair and there they met a fortune-teller who said that Conchita would never know real happiness. Her mother crossed the woman’s palm with a silver coin and thanked her. So even at that tender age, Conchita never really held out any hope of finding a happy reason to exist.

But she did exist. She lived and breathed and hoped that it would be over one way or another, without too much pain.

Then one morning, when the sun was shining down carelessly on the street with no name, Conchita found herself smiling at nothing in particular.

This worried Conchita, this happiness certainly wasn’t for her – perhaps it was delivered to the wrong address, she thought. Mind you, in a street with no name it was an easy mistake to make.

So what Conchita did, was take her little bit of happiness that she had felt and cut it up into seven pieces – as there were that number of other houses in the same street.

The following morning, very early, she left a piece of happiness at each door and moved on. Each of the neighbors were surprised at the gift lying at their door and were curious as to who had left it.

In one house, the woman picked up the piece of happiness and showed it to her husband. He just grunted and she said that he wouldn’t know happiness if hit him in the face.

And that is what she did, she threw the happiness at him which bounced off his head, out of the window and was never seen again. Five of the other houses did much the same, they either swept the happiness under the carpet or used it as a doormat until it was no more.

Only one, a little old woman by the name of Estelle, took the piece of happiness in and fed it and nurtured it. She never took it for granted and bit by bit it grew. When it had grown to a large size, she wrapped it up and took it along the street to Conchita’s house.

Outside Estelle left the happiness and a note – ‘Dear Conchita, I knew it was you who gave away your happiness, but we can’t use other people’s happiness for ourselves, we have to take care of our own. It made me happy to look after a little bit of your happiness and watch it grow. I now return it for you to enjoy.’

Conchita took the package in and realized that there were kind people in the world who wouldn’t take your happiness for granted.

And that was when Conchita realized also, that only you can make your happiness grow and that it isn’t the responsibility of others.

bobby stevenson 2016

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KILLER!

nurse

She liked to call him ‘Joseph’, that way he seemed a bit more human.

It was her turn tonight to wash and bathe him. Poor soul. Some of the other nurses would run a mile rather than get anywhere near him. But she felt she was different. She was used to the wild ones.

Sometimes people would come in and poke him, just to hear him squeal but she would give them all short change and hurry them out of the room. She didn’t want any of that hanky-panky, not when she was on the ward.

And as she washed his beaten body down she saw the mellowness in his eyes, somewhere behind that grotesque face was a heart beating. One that was kinder and more honest than the rest of the folks who walked this sick Earth. She felt like he was almost a baby at times and wanted to lift the huge head and cuddle it. Tell it she was sorry for what God and man had done to him.

She knew people were easily fooled. An ugly face, meant an ugly heart and a pretty one, meant intelligence and love. Yet nothing could be further from the truth – the one – the one she loved, that is, was the prettiest man she had every set eyes on. He had told her he loved her and when she looked into his eyes, she believed him.

Some pretty packages hide dark and dangerous souls.
When she had finished washing and drying him or it – she wasn’t quite sure – it had looked at her with the softest eyes she had ever seen. It made her feel almost human, too.

She knew she was pretty, the way the patients and the doctors stared at her – the way the navvies shouted after her in the street. But most of all, she had to have been pretty to have landed the most beautiful man in Whitechapel. Yet, as she’d come to find out, that behind those beautiful blue eyes of his was a heart as twisted and dark as the lanes leading to the hospital.

She had heard whispers in the hospital that the police thought the Ripper might be from there. There were suspicions and one of them was a name she didn’t really want to repeat: his name.

She had found out late in their relationship that those pretty blue eyes had taken other women to bed – but she couldn’t see him as being the Ripper. He had cheated on her sure. He had hit her more than once, but that didn’t make you a murderer.

She knew what did make you commit murder, but she wasn’t telling. Just like the way she had worked out how someone could kill Joseph. It was as simple as taking the pillow away while it was sleeping. She would do it one day – kill, Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man just because she could, just because she wanted to.

But until then, she would satisfy her thirst by killing off those trollops who had dared go to bed with her man. She devoured the ways and means. She loved making them suffer.

Jack the Ripper? Don’t make me laugh. For she knew she saw the face of the Ripper every time she looked in a mirror. 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Miracle of West Culpepper

blue

In those days, the Blue Ridge Mountains was another world. Very few folks had automobiles back then and the trains didn’t go anywhere near.

The little town was called West Culpepper, and if you had just clambered up from the Shenandoah Valley then you hadn’t gone far enough and if you got all the way to Blacksburg, then you’d gone too far.

It was such a beautiful little place. You know, one of those towns that burrowed into your heart and would stay there for ever. We had gone one summer to visit an aunt just after the war (the Great one that is). My aunt Jemima had moved to West Culpepper when her husband had got a job to help build a road that could take folks all the way into West Virginia; right over the tops of the mountains. Some said that from up there you could see all the way to California.

The troubles all started back in the ‘Twenties. Up until then, the old town had a run of good luck all the way back to when it was started by an Englishman – who went by the name of Samuel Huntingdon. He had heard of stories of magical creatures which roamed the Appalachians – he never found any but died a peaceful death after a real happy life.

So how did all those troubles get to showing themselves? Well, it began with Jasper Howridge’s farm, his cattle seemed to catch some disease and all of them died real quick. Some folks said that maybe Jasper had brought something back from Europe, on account of fighting in the war over there. Others said it was a curse brought in by the new people who’d moved to Culpepper. Whatever the reason, the cattle were stone cold dead. Some of the other farmers and friends helped burn the carcases – that’s what folks did up there, help each other.

Jasper didn’t have the heart to start again and took to drinking Hooch most days. The Reverend Jack wanted to help Jasper and his family, but the tired farmer seemed have put himself on a runaway train and nothing, and no one, was going to stop him.

There was also a good guy in the midst of all this chaos. His name was Slim Jim Cook: ‘Slim Jim’ on account that he liked to eat anything and everything and it showed on his belly.

You see Jim had come to the area to write a book about George Washington and the years he spent surveying in those hills. But the place had got to him and he had settled, never actually writing the book. Something he was always going to do when the weather got better. And yes, the weather got better but that didn’t bother Jim, he just said that since the weather was so nice and the hills so pretty, it seemed a waste to spend in indoors writing. So he read, and read, read everything that he could get his hands on and one of the folks who did catch his eye was that Englishman, Samuel Huntingdon. Jim decided that after his Washington book, he’d write one on that man.

People didn’t need to hear about the Wall Street Crash in West Culpepper ‘cause things had been going downhill for a long time now. Folks helped each other out with slimmest of pickings, but to be truthful the town was dying on its feet. There was only one real doctor and he lived a day’s ride away. In those days, Mother Hitchens saw to births, and deaths – bathing the newly arrived and washing the newly departed. She would only take from the families what they could afford and sometimes that was nothing.

People started talking about leaving and heading south to say, The Carolinas to see what was happening down there. Some families packed up and left and said they’d come back when things were good. To be real honest we never laid our eyes on any of them ever again.

So Slim Jim sat up nights thinking about what to do with regard to the dying of West Culpepper and no matter what came to his mind, there was always a flaw in all of it.

It was just as he was looking out at the moon one night that he asked the good Lord to help him find a way. And that was when (least ways that’s the way he tells it) his notes about that old Englishman Huntingdon fell from his bookshelf – right in front of him. Now whether it was a sign from the Lord or a gust of wind that shot straight down his chimney, we’ll never know, but it got Slim Jim to thinking and reading.

Samuel Huntingdon had only been twenty-three years of age when he had crossed the oceans to land in Philadelphia. It was a city that Sam took to his heart as much as it took to Sam. He settled for a few years and worked with the great Ben Franklin in his newspaper office.

It was while he was working there that Sam heard of the magical beasts who roamed the mountains of Virginia, and that was when Sam decided to give up the newspaper business and head south.

Ten years he spent walking those hills, and although he saw many exotic creatures, he never once set his eyes on a unicorn. But that’s not to say he didn’t find magic. Sam had been told of a well that lay just outside West Culpepper that contained water from deep beneath the earth. Water so special that it could cure all a soul’s ills and so, for the rest of his life, Sam walked to that well and drank from it every single day.

This got Slim Jim thinking who then set out to find the well. Retracing all the steps he could find written about Sam and his travels. Try as he might, he never found the well but this didn’t stop Jim, and so one day he called a meeting at the town hall. Some say it was the power of Slim Jim’s talking or maybe it was just that the town’s folk were so tired and hungry that they’d believe anything – but believe it they did.

Slim Jim told them that he’d found the lost well of Samuel Huntingdon and that the well could cure all their troubles. It wasn’t that Slim Jim really believed any of it, it was just that Jim knew a secret of life, and that was if people believed hard enough, then good things happened. Sure hadn’t Mother Hitchens given her cure-all medication which was nothing more than some water and sugar but because folks believed it, a lot of them got better.

Slim Jim marched them all down to a little well he’d dug out himself. Slim Jim said a prayer for the town and then he took the first drink.

Jim looked to the sky and shouted ‘Thank you’ and then told the people that he felt like a million dollars. So the town’s folk did the same – even Jasper the farmer.

Now I’m not saying that it was a miracle or anything, but the town’s folk went back to that newly dug well every day and drank like there was no tomorrow.

And do you know what?

People started getting better and luckier and getting on with their lives. Sure the businesses were struggling but with belief people walked further, worked harder and so day by day, the town of West Culpepper and its people got stronger and better.

Not because of what was in the water, you understand. No sir, they got better because they believed in themselves and I tell you folks, that’s the strongest medicine of all.

I thank you kindly for reading my little story.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Secret Things, Sweet Things

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Secret Things

She awoke, as she did every morning to the sound of the muffled, shouting voice and the door being unlocked before repeatedly kicked. Slivers of sunlight were all that her young eyes could understand until she reached for the old spectacles that were her only possession.

She was in the garden shed as this was where she lived.

There was another kick, usually when her father had just finished his roll-up cigarette.

She reached up to remove the old stinking blanket that covered the window. The morning light did what it usually did – the shock of it always burned her eyes at first. Sometimes the blanket was just her window curtain, but on frosty, snowy night it was a life saver. It just meant that she would awaken with her father’s face looking through the window – her privacy gone.

In the kitchen, her father and grandmother danced around each other; the dance of the bully and the gentle old lady. When the old woman’s daughter had disappeared, she had decided to wait on her return. As the months became years, she still had hope burning in her heart. The bully knew better, he didn’t expect his wife to come back.

The grandmother was limited in what she could do to keep her granddaughter safe and leaving was not an option. They had tried that and he had tracked both of them down, and both had been badly beaten.

He took them to the hospital afterwards and told the doctor that they had been attacked by a burglar. The doctor knew from the bully’s eyes what the truth was.

If it was a particularly cold night, the grandmother would take the young girl into her room for a few warm hours. By the morning, she had to be returned to the shed; the young girl’s sin was reminding the bully of her mother.

Each morning the little lost girl in her dishevelled clothes would leave her shed and look through the kitchen window. When her father was reading the newspaper, her grandmother would signal that she could enter and come to the table.

The young girl would sit very still with her arms by her side and wait to be told when to move.

Her grandmother would place toast beside the girl and then ruffle her hair. The little lost girl would eat the dry toast washed down with a glass of milk, but on this morning as the little girl reached for the milk, she knocked it over.

The quiet old lady and the little lost girl watched as the milk ran towards, then under, her father’s newspaper. The bully jumped, screwed up the wet newspaper, threw it at the little girl, knocking her off her stool. Before she left for school, her grandmother stuck a plaster on the cut on her forehead. The bully was long gone and so she kissed her granddaughter and ruffled her hair then gave her a few coins to spend.

On the bus she sat alone drawing pictures in the window condensation.

As three older girls passed her, they laughed, held their noses and then spat on the little girl. A kindly woman took out a paper handkerchief and handed it to the little lost one. The little girl wiped the spit away, then put the paper hanky in her pocket. In the class, she sat as she did at the breakfast table with her arms by her side. She sat alone.

The teacher handed out exam results to each pupil and behind the little girl, a classmate held her nose letting everyone know of the smell. The class laughed until the teacher told them to be quiet.

The teacher placed the young girl’s result on her desk: 10 out of 10 – ‘excellent’. The girl behind her stole the paper and threw it around the class. One boy ripped the paper into pieces. When the class emptied, the little girl put the pieces of her exam result in her pocket.

At lunchtime, the young girl walked to the cafe and bought chips with the money her grandmother had given her. The woman in the cafe smiled as the little girl smiled back.

Hungrily the girl walked and ate her chips before bumping into someone. It was one of the older girls who stole the little girl’s food and threw it to her friends. One tipped the chips on to the street then they all walked away laughing. The little girl picked up her chip paper and put it in her pocket.

Later that day, the little girl sat in the kitchen at the table with her grandmother. She drew a beautiful picture with her crayons. Then a door slammed and the grandmother motioned her granddaughter to go out the kitchen door – quickly.

In the shed the young girl hung the blanket over her window once more, just as her father put a lock on the shed door. He made sure it was locked solid. Under her bedding was a torch which the young girl switched on. She then took out the all the papers and hankies from her pocket and the plaster from her forehead. With a little pot of glue, all these things were stuck to a larger object.

The object was made up of bits of this and that. The little lost girl had built something out of all the badness that had come her way. As she shone the torch up towards the object, she smiled at what she has made.

She had built an angel which reached to the roof and watched over her.

 

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Sweet Things

She eventually found her mother.

Perhaps it was more correct to say that her mother had found her, having traced her daughter through a friend. The mother had been in contact just before the girl’s 21st birthday.

It had been a dark time when the girl had returned for her grandmother’s funeral. Her father had spoken to her that day, perhaps for the first time in years. He had screamed at her from time to time but on this sad day, as her grandmother’s coffin was placed in the ground, he whispered “She’s joined your mother”. She was seventeen by then and she didn’t want to believe him. She didn’t believe him.

Her father had shrunk since last she’d seen him and the drinking had taken its toll; he was barely forty and comfortably wore the body of an older man.

It had only been three years since the girl had gone to school and simply never returned home. She had taken the first bus that was leaving town and had paid for it with her grandmother’s lunch money. She’d been skipping meals to save up – what was the point anyway? There was always going to be someone to take the food away from her. Only when the bus was on the road and the town was just a distant church spire – did she begin to relax. She dumped her school clothes in a bin at the first comfort stop then dressed into a sweater and jeans.

Her grandmother had given her an address in the city, “just in case” she said. “In case I go, sooner rather than later.”  The address was meant for an emergency and this is exactly what this was. She felt sorry that she had abandoned her grandmother to that madman but she could take it no longer. She had given them all a thousand chances: the school, the teachers, her classmates, even her grandmother, to change things and no one had.

Then one morning when she awoke in the shed for the hundredth time, the angel gave her a look as if to say, ‘it’s up to you, no one else is coming to help’.

The address had taken her to a Mrs Beverly Smith of Harrow, London – a kindly woman who had once been a beauty and had once been her grandmother’s bridesmaid.

“Just call me Bev, love, everyone does.”

She lived on her own with a cat called Lennon. Her husband, Stanley, had ‘been taken’ five years before.

“I’ve got me son, ‘Arry, he’s a doctor in Aberdeen. Works for one of them oil companies. I’ve got two grandchildren, Sarah and Stanley. That’s enough for me, thank you for asking.”

Bev let the girl stay in Harry’s room, “Don’t suppose he’ll be wanting it anytime soon.”

Bev knew a woman who knew the manager of the local supermarket and got the girl a job on a Saturday. She proved such a dependable hard worker that after a month, she was taken on full-time.

“If you don’t mind me saying. I’ve seen them drawings you do, love. You’re too good just to doodle. I reckon you could be an artist.” Bev also knew a woman who knew a man that ran an art course at the local college in the evenings. Bev managed to get the girl on a course that ran over the winter.

By December, the girl’s art teacher was recommending that the girl go to Art School – “You are that good.” At weekends when she wasn’t working at the store, she was working on her portfolio. She painted Lennon as a thank you for Bev and it hung on the wall next to a photo of Stanley, her husband.

The following September, the girl was accepted into Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. This wasn’t just any art school, this was the best. When the girl had worked in the supermarket she had kept her own company, always expecting someone to take everything away from her.

At college she was spotted by a young girl called Leonetta, who befriended her.

“Just call me Leon.”

Leon was studying fashion and was in her second year. Her boyfriend was a footballer and insisted that Leon watch him every Saturday – so she took the girl along as company. One Saturday evening after football, Leon and her boyfriend came to Bev’s for something to eat. The girl had never had friends home before for something as glamorous as a meal.

The girl met a boy at one of the football matches. Eddie was his name, he was an electrician.

“You hold on to that one” said Bev, “Electricians are never out of work.”

And she did hold on to that one. She didn’t tell him of her past life, something like that would keep for another day. But one day when they were walking along the High Street, she laughed out loud and then she realised that she was laughing for the very first time in her short life.

Eddy made her eyes smile.In her final year at art school, Eddie asked her to marry him and she accepted.

A week before the art show, she went back to Bev’s for a change of clothes as all the students had been working day and night and basically sleeping at the college. When she walked into the front room, Bev was sitting with a woman.

“She’s your Mum.”

Bev left the two of them to talk.

“I was younger than you when I left.  I couldn’t cope. He wasn’t a bad man, not at first. He just used to come home drunk and lock me in the shed out back. You know the one?”

The girl nodded that she did.

There were several roads that the girl could have taken that day but the one she took was to place her arms around her mother and they both wept.

She invited her Mum, along with Leon and her boyfriend,Eddie to the graduation show but pride of place was kept for Bev, her other mum.

Along with the girl’s drawings of Bev, Lennon and Bev’s family was a statue she had made from glued paper.

It was a tall smiling angel and underneath it were the words:

“Everything is going to be alright.”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Storm

thestorm

Every morning the same thing happened, her mother would burst into her room, shout ‘rise and shine’ and then open the window to let the world in. Most of the time it was only the train smoke from the station next door.

They had lived in a little house on Albion Square since her great-grandmother’s time and the family had seen no reason to change things, even when the family grew to be nine souls.

There’s no need to tell you exactly where all this occurred, just in case you go looking. I wouldn’t blame you, but to be truthful the family have seen enough hard times of late.

The year I am writing about is just a couple of months into 1920. The girl in the bedroom, Eloise, always finds a strange comfort in the daily smell of the steam trains passing her window.

Had the war not intervened, she would have now been living in Dover as the wife of Doctor Smithton. Expect life never ever played that fair and Eric, her intended, was lost somewhere in France.

So she had resigned herself to remaining unmarried for the rest of her life, and destined to share the little bedroom with her other three sisters. Her siblings had long since gone to work and Eloise loved the thirty extra minutes she had in bed with the room to herself. She revelled in her isolation, with no noise and no girls, she would lie and dream of what her life could have been. She dreamed of going downstairs and making Eric his breakfast before he headed off to the surgery.

As it was, in reality, she would trot along to the little café on Middle Street, where she would spend ten hours a day making tea and serving scones to the great and the good of the town.

Except this day was unlike any others. For a start, she couldn’t smell the steam trains;

“There’s a storm coming, see if I’m wrong,” said her mother as she opened the bedroom window. Eloise reckoned her mother was probably right, the sky – at least what she could see from her bed – looked dark and foreboding.

By the time Eloise was walking down the lanes to Middle Street, she had to pull her coat in tight against the wind – a warm one that was blowing strongly in from the sea. She struggled to open the café door and judging by the lack of people in the place, so had the customers.

By five o’clock, Mrs Teacher, the owner of the café, sent everyone home.

“Don’t look like they’ll be any more today not with that sky, so be off with you and get yourselves to the comfort of your home.”

Eloise didn’t want to go home so soon, knowing full well, that her sisters would be sitting in the bedroom, her bedroom, discussing their latest boyfriends. She thought it a bit tasteless that they had to talk about such things in front of her – considering what had happened to Eric. Eloise would cough now and again when things were particularly hurtful, but that only served to make her sisters talk in hushed tones – something which annoyed her more.

So that night, after the café was closed, instead of going home, she headed down to the beach. It was here she always felt free and content. What amazed her was the fact that the water in front of her was a path to anywhere in the world. All one had to do was jump in and swim.

But that night the storm was growing into a hurricane and it was difficult to stand upright on the beach. Instead she chose to walk down the pier and not surprisingly she was the only one there. Even the little man who sat in by a fire, in the hut at the gate, had given up the ghost and gone home.

There was a chalked black board on which the little man had written the word ‘danger’ on it – a warning which was gradually being washed off by the rain. Eloise chose to ignore it and walked to the end of the pier, anyway.

The last thing she remembers is hearing Eric, she was almost sure it was him, calling her name.

For several days the locals walked the beaches and cliffs of the area looking for Eloise’s body, but nothing turned up. After two weeks, everyone had given up any hope of her returning (all except her mother that is). No one could work out why she had gone walking on her own – and on the pier – and on a night such as that.

Mrs Teacher replaced Eloise with a girl who was straight from school and willing to take half her wages.

The weeks passed, as did the months and then the years, and by then all her sisters had moved out of the bedroom and made something of themselves. All were married, all to good husbands from good families. ‘Wonderful prospects’, as their mother was always telling the neighbours.

Eloise’s mother continued to walk the pier several times a week, wondering when her daughter would return – for she was sure, in her heart that she would.

In November, 1963 – the same month that President Kennedy was assassinated, Eloise’s mother had got her first television. Something she would have to pay off weekly for the next several years. By that month she found that she only went to the pier once a week, as her arthritis was getting worse and anyway she could spend the cold nights watching some soap or other on her television. It was almost like an old friend.

When there was a knock at the door, she initially thought of ignoring it, but it seemed persistent and reluctantly she rose to answer it.

“Who are you,” shouted Eloise’s mother which was answered by an even louder knock.

When she opened the door a young policeman was standing in front of her.

“Mrs Greata?” Asked the young man.

And right there and then, Mrs Greata (Eloise’s mother) sank to her arthritic knees.

“Please God, not one of my children, please tell me it isn’t so,” she pleaded.

“It isn’t what you think,” said the policeman. “We found this woman walking by the pier, all she could say was she wanted to be taken to Albion square.  So I did. No one has recognised her so far. You’re my last hope. Do you know this woman?”

The policeman pulled a bedraggled young woman into the light of the hall.

It was her, and she hadn’t aged a day.

It was Eloise.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Morning of the Day…..

morning-sunlight

She could feel the sun on her heart, as its rays broke through the window. There was a bird, a blackbird, singing in the old twisted trees. She heard the cyclists from the city, shouting to one another as their bikes sailed past her front door. The aroma of the freshly made coffee had skipped the stairs and had, instead, entered her room through a little opened window. There was a quiet tap as a Bee kept hitting on her glass pane, looking for somewhere new to live.

Then without warning, the heat started to bubble though her veins, and pumped her lips and brightened her eyes. No longer did her heart skip a beat, it was like an engine, blasting a way forward.

She had done with the dull days, and the rain, and the mist that had arrived with the darkness. She had done with avoiding mirrors and reflections. She was finished with treating herself as the enemy, and listening to the sourness of others: their paths were their problems, their responsibilities.

She sat up in bed, smiled for the first time in a long time, and decided it was the day to be happy again.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Yellow Balloon

yellow

His name was Charlie and he was a kid. Charlie was lucky enough to be living through his best years. His mother, father, brother and sisters were all well, all happy, and all in that little perfect bubble that happens from time to time in life.

When Charlie was eight, he had his first birthday party which involved all his friends coming to his house. This was Charlie’s first proper party.

Charlie’s parents were like ducks on water, everything seemed calm on top, but both of them had to paddle extremely hard to keep themselves and the family from sinking. Not that Charlie knew any of this, or of the double shifts that his father had worked that previous week to afford Charlie’s first grown-up party.

Charlie, his brother and his dad all blew up the balloons. Charlie inflated the red ones, his brother the green balloons and his dad the yellow ones. Both Charlie and his brother used little air pumps to inflate them all, but Charlie’s dad just blew them up with his own breath. This was his youngest son’s first real party and he wanted to give it everything he had.

That night, after the party, Charlie’s dad felt a pain in his left arm, then his chest, and with only time to quietly say ‘goodbye’ he closed his eyes for good.

The next morning, Charlie’s grandfather took down all the decorations – anything that reminded the family of happier times – and burst all the balloons. Or so he thought.

Charlie sat in his bedroom, scared to cry for his dad, since he felt that if he started again, he would never stop. That was when he noticed the yellow balloon in the corner of the room, with a little note attached ‘Happy Birthday, my boy, I am so proud of you, love dad’.

Suddenly it struck Charlie that there was still a part of his dad alive. In the balloon was his dad’s breath – a little piece of him – something that he had made while he was happy.

So Charlie, very, very carefully drew a little face on the yellow balloon and talked to it, as if it was his dad. In the corner of his room was a little bit of his father and he was still with him. When Charlie woke in the morning the balloon was still watching over him.

The next night he could hear his mother crying in her room, and so Charlie took the balloon into her room and told her the story. That night the two of them slept in her bed watched over by the balloon filled with his dad’s breath.

Charlie tried everything he could to stop the balloon getting smaller and smaller – his dad was disappearing and leaving Charlie for good. Charlie’s grandfather heard his grandson crying and came into to the room to help. Charlie told his grandfather about the balloon and how it was losing his dad’s air.

His grandfather held Charlie and told him that it was only his dad returning home. His grandfather, and Charlie, and Charlie’s dad didn’t come from here, they came from out there – far away in space. He told him that Charlie’s dad would need his breath out in the stars and that it had to return to him. Charlie’s grandfather said that Charlie could keep the balloon with him to remember his dad, but in the end it was what a person left in your heart that counted – nothing else.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Desert Ice

Mothership-Thunderstorm

Marcie’s dog did nothing but bark that night.

That little mutt – which always smelt of piss – I reckoned was just showing its final ‘how-do-you-do’ before going over.

I knew something was wrong, I mean real wrong, and I could feel it in the pit of my riddled stomach. I ain’t talking about the dog,’ cause I gave up worrying about such things a long time ago. No, I meant something was wrong in here, and out there, everywhere, in fact.  Leastways that’s how it seemed. It kinda felt like the world was tipping on its axis.

I know, I can hear you, you think that I’ve been at the Hooch again but I swear to you, that was how I saw it.

It just felt wrong.

Something made me think about leaving. I mean I’d been living out here in the panhandle since my ma and pa went to see Jesus. My granddaddy had won the shack in a bet and had given it to my parents as a wedding present. This little place was all I had in the world – I was supposed to pass it on to my family, but both a wife and kids never showed up – maybe I didn’t go looking hard enough.

Here I was taking about getting in my car and driving through the desert on a feeling. On a hunch. Hey, maybe I was coming down with the sickness that caught my grandma – the one which took her on a journey to the dark side in her head and never brought her back to us.

Marcie’s dog howled and hollered the next day, too. I shouted over to her, asking if everything was all right, but she just dragged the dog indoors and shut the world out. Maybe she felt it too – the weirdness, I mean.

There were only two answers to all of this – either, I was going crazy, or something bad was coming down the road and I had to get away.

If it was just craziness, I could always come back to the shack and go on as if nothing had happened – I’d just tell Marcie I had been on vacation. Not that she’d believe me – since I ain’t been on one since my daddy took me and my brother all the way to the Gulf. That was back in the days when no one could have seen a black man or a woman sitting in the White House. Elvis wasn’t even a King.

I packed a few things – to be honest, it didn’t leave much else in the shack – and I shoved them in the trunk. The wind and the sand were gathering some but I thought I’d better tell Marcie about my plans, just in case she got spooked or something.

I knocked on her door several times, and at first I thought she couldn’t hear on account of the wind, but on my fifth knock I heard her shout ‘go away’. Now that ain’t like Marcie, that ain’t like Marcie at all – something wasn’t right. Maybe her dog was finally going away and her heart was breaking.

“You okay?” I shouted.

“Just leave me,” she called back.

“Can’t I help ya?”

“No. I’m fine,” she said in a real sad voice.

I kinda reluctantly left her. Twice I turned to go back but I thought better of it. It was just that I wondered if she felt what I was feeling – that somehow the world was gonna change and nothing would ever be the same?

I guess I had always been ready for this craziness – I had never thought that the world was anything other than a plain stupid idea – badly thought out at that. So when I get overcome by the thought that it’s all coming to an end somehow, I’m thinking to myself: ‘so what?’. I mean it’s not as if anyone would miss us all when we’re gone.

I jumped in the car and headed towards the mountains – I had checked the gas and it looked as if I had enough to get to Wickamore, which lay eighty miles to the north.

After a couple of minutes, I stopped and checked in the mirror to see if there was any movement at Marcie’s, but the wind and sand were blowing up such a storm that her place and mine disappeared into a sandy haze.

I think deep in my soul, or whatever it is that I have, I knew I wasn’t going to see my old home again. It just felt like a final farewell.

I drove for an hour and never passed one single, solitary soul – I didn’t even see a wild animal, or a bird, or a snake. Nothing.

About ten miles shy of Wickamore, I see this cloud in the sky – I mean one I had never seen the likes before. It was almost Biblical – it made me shudder just looking at it, the shiver traveled all the way down my back.

I felt (don’t ask me why, ‘cause I don’t know) that it was a sign telling me (and anyone else who saw it) that a change was expected very soon.

Something big was on its way, and we would not be the same after.

It was dusk as I crept up on Wickamore – the sand and the sundowner working together to make Main Street look blood-red.

When they later asked me about that day, I had to be honest and say I didn’t remember seeing the sign at first. I was so busy looking at the dying sun, that I didn’t notice it – even although it was big, real big, and hanging from the Town Hall.

I pushed on the brakes so hard when I finally read it.

It said: ‘For God’s sake don’t come here. Turn back.’

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Zoot and Sandy and Worrying about Things

elephant

Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating past their little seat.

“You’re quieter than usual, young Zoot,” said the elephant.

“Just thinking,” Sandy replied. “Just thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

“Well, Sandy my oldest friend, I was wondering if those birds ever worried about things,” said Zoot.

“Like what?”
“Well…that they might fall out the sky, one day,” said Zoot, worried.

“You think it might happen, young fella?” Asked Sandy.

“Don’t see why not, everything is possible in this life. Everything. I mean I had an aunt who worried all the time about her tail falling off.”

“And did it?” Sandy asked.

“Well no, but she did get electrocuted when she was peeing up against a lamppost.”

“But that’s nothing to do with her tail falling off,” said Sandy.

“But she did worry that something terrible was going to happen and it did,” said Zoot, a little concerned.

Sandy took a deep breath through his trunk.

“My little Zoot, what if we all had a terrible end. Imagine it was the only way out of this life.”

“Okay,” said Zoot.

“What would be the point of when and where it was going to happen? Since it was going to happen, then making the most of the time you had would be the only way forwards. If you worried about your terrible end all your life, then your life would already be finished the moment you started worrying.”

“So you’re saying, don’t worry?” Asked Zoot.

“No, I ain’t saying that at all. Worrying serves a purposes sometimes. Like when you are lost in a wood, it makes you more on edge – ready to run should anything take place.”
“’Take place’?” Asked Zoot.

“Just forget about that. Why, oh why, should the birds worry about falling out of the sky? If it happens to them, then it happens – but they don’t let it bother the life they’re living. Otherwise….”

“They are already dead,” said a proud Zoot.

“Exactly. Now try this,” added Sandy.

“Try what?” Asked Zoot.

“Imagine you only have five more minutes to exist on Earth.”

“Okay,” said Zoot.

“So what are you thinking?” Asked Sandy.

“What I should do for the last five minutes of my life.”

“Aha,” shouted Sandy. “You see you are wasting five minutes worrying about nothing. Instead look at the sea and watch how beautiful it is, look at the birds and think how magnificent they are. That way when the five minutes are up you will go with a smile on your face.”

“Is having a smile important?” Asked Zoot.

“Of course it is,” replied Sandy. “Now sit here with me, your closest friend, and don’t worry about anything for the next five minutes.” So that is what they did, although, initially, Zoot worried about not doing it properly. Then Zoot got the hang of it and was surprised when Sandy said that the five minutes were up.

“Now,” said Sandy. “Try that for another five minutes and then another five and soon you’ll get there. And you’ll notice nothing bad has happened. You didn’t float up into space or have your tail fall off.”

And Zoot did see what Sandy was getting at. There was too much wonder in the world to let it be contaminated by needless worrying. Bad things would happen, they did to everyone, but no amount of worrying could or would change things.

And as Zoot said goodbye to his friend, he made up his mind not to worry for five minutes on the way home, and after that maybe he’d try another five minutes.

“See ya, tomorrow,” said Zoot.

“See ya, buddy,” replied Sandy.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

My Final Place

wedding

There had been an old Star Trek episode once, where the world was about to end in destruction and people could select (by the aid of a time-machine) a place to go in the past where they would survive – albeit, among strangers, and among people who did things differently – well, the past was like that.

And that, my friends, just about sums up where we are at the moment. In the first half of the twenty-first century technology had accelerated away into places never dreamed of. Computers were now biological, space travel had been available to many. Some preferred to stay behind on Earth – since it was all they knew or ever wanted to know.

My family was one of those who selected to stay – ‘cave-huggers’ they were called by those who saw themselves as more far-reaching.

I had never married and never had kids, and therefore my immediate family was all I had. Slowly but surely, each of them died off, leaving me more and more to fend for myself.

When this little planet, this little spaceship – that we were walking on, and which took us around the Sun every year – had started to fail, then we knew we were in trouble.

By the time the planet began to break-up, it was all too late to do anything about it – too late to leave, even.

The conclusive discovery of dark matter in that spring of 2019 had changed the whole scientific outlook. A million things were now possible, and time-travel (within a limited physical area) was also possible. There had been failures – sheep which had been sent into the past had returned in woeful conditions; most of them dead, and many of them mutilated.

Andy Forest was the first man to ever attempt a trip back in time – admittedly it was only as far as the day before and then he was to return. Which he did, remarkably intact. Although there was one flaw, Andy had been told to leave a note in a specific area writing down the date and time of when he was there. Andy did so and returned to us successfully, but the note never showed up. Doctor Phillius, our main man on the project, suggested that perhaps the past was in another dimension and that, the next day wasn’t just the ‘same place, a little later’ – one wag suggested that perhaps a cleaner had found the paper and got rid of it.

Perhaps when you went into the past, you disrupted the universe and caused a slip into a parallel one. The fact that you could come back to the future was because that was where you and your particles belonged. Anyway, I know I’m losing you here so I’ll stop with all the conjecture. Suffice to say that there wasn’t going to be a future to come back to shortly and that we all needed to decide pretty sharpish where we wanted to go.

Some went in pairs, some went in large groups. Me? I went on my own because I knew where I was going to travel back to – was going to be pretty personal.

That night I went through the process of getting all my jabs and medications that would at least give me a head start for where I was going.

The contraption could send me back in time but no more than one mile from where I was presently situated. I knew that there was a little area up by some water above the town that was never built upon, and would be safe to materialize.

That night they sent me back to a place in history where I believed I would be safe.

I awoke on the hill with a beautiful rising sun and I knew where I had to be by three o’clock.

When I got to the hall, there was a small crowd waiting to go in – I have to say it was strange seeing them in colour instead of the black and white Polaroid photos.

As I stood across the street, I saw the black car drive up to the hall and there they were, standing at the door and getting covered in confetti: my parents, newly married – I had come back to the sixties and I knew I was going to be happy here – even having the fun of watching myself arrive on the planet, one day very soon.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo: My parents on their wedding day 🙂

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Cold Fire

water-lighter-o

So there was this crazy dude, I mean as crazy as a sack of cats. He’s singing some song by the Beatles and dancing, but not to the tune that’s coming out his mouth – no, to something else only he can hear.

After about thirty minutes of this and he stops, takes a real deep breath, then falls over – so I go and pick him up, really without thinking. He thanks me and says he wants to tell me story as a way of paying me back. I’m thinking to myself, this guy is like, on something and I ain’t sure if I want to hear any of his stories but he holds my arm real tight and insists. So we sit and he pants some, and spits some, and wheezes some, then looks at me right in the eyes and boy has he got a stare.

I want to tell you a story boy and I want you to listen real good.

So, I’m thinking what the h, another fifteen minutes ain’t gonna kill me, now is it?

And he tells me about this land where there were people, who lived and breathed and loved and hated and all the other things we humans do. Then one day out of the sky comes this weird light and it brings to earth the machines. I ask him what machines, and he just tells me to shut up and the crazy guy just continues with his story.

These machines started to take the form of humans, he says, and soon it was impossible to tell between the real bloods and the cold fires (as they called the newcomers). Except for one thing –their metal hearts – the cold fires couldn’t breathe – they didn’t need to see? I nodded in agreement with the guy, like I say he was crazy.  And because they didn’t breathe they didn’t catch diseases or get ill, and soon the metals, the cold fires were the majority and because they were jealous of the real bloods, ‘cause they couldn’t feel and cry and laugh and mean it – they wanted to get rid of them. So began the purge of the real bloods – sometimes the real bloods would be found hanging from trees. Sometimes they took their own lives. But they didn’t wipe them all out and sometimes real bloods were born and they went to school and mixed with the cold fires – except they couldn’t breathe or that would give the game away. Sometimes the kids would bully another kid and taunt him with the name of ‘real blood’ and the kid would cry and tell them he ain’t a breather, ‘cause everyone knows that breathing is wrong.
And these kids had to hold their breath most of their lives, except when they were with their own kind, or by themselves – which was a lot of the time.

Then the day came when the cold fires let the reins loose a little and real bloods were allowed to live together – and have children – although the cold fires thought is wasn’t right and prayed for the real bloods to their cold fire god. And although they might all live near each other, everyone knew that only cold fires were going to heaven and that real bloods would go to hell.
But the real bloods just smiled and laughed and cried just like they’d always done and they knew what set them apart was their warm hearts.

And that made them happy.

And that’s when I ask the crazy guy what happens next and he just turns to me and he says:

You got a heart – use it.

bobby stevenson 2016

cold fire

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THING and His Best Ever Thought

thing

When it happened it took Thing by surprise. The fact that a thought like that could go through Thing’s mind, both scared him and got him excited.

When he was younger, when he had first started school, he would have done anything for someone to say a kind word to him. Sure his teacher was kind, but as for the rest of the kids, well they treated him as their families had taught them to behave, with cruelty; seven-year-old children are born cruel, they learn it and accept it and use it.

Even when his parents left him in the cave alone, he still would cross a street to be kind to someone, to be decent, hoping that one day they would return the favor. Hoping that one day they too would like him.

Thing sometimes blamed himself. Sometimes he was so exhausted by all the hate that he nearly believed it – nearly – that he was different, that he was ugly, that he had no right to exist. When they threw rocks at him, he sometimes (only sometimes mind you) understood why they did it.

In his lifetime, there had been those who had tried to change Thing – people who had claimed they had cures for what he had – which to Thing only seemed to be that he was different from the majority of folks in town. But being in a minority didn’t make you wrong or sick. Look at Gulliver’s travels – wasn’t he the giant in one life and a midget in another? The folks of those towns had tried to destroy Gulliver but it was their fear that was the source of it all, not the difference in Gulliver.

Thing remembered when his teacher had asked the class to put their hands in the air if they had ever been sick at some point in their lives, and all the class had raised their hands. That was when the teacher said that sometimes being in the majority wasn’t necessarily a good place to be. Thing had smiled at that and it had kept him warm for several days afterwards.

All his life, Thing had wanted someone to smile at him and mean it. It had happened once or twice in his whole life and Thing had appreciated it. The first thought in his head when he entered a café, or a store, or the school was that he hoped the folks inside would like him.

It was always that way. Always.

Then one day, one glorious day when the sun was shining across the skies and life was smiling on him, Thing walked into the main street of town and suddenly he had the weirdest thought.

The weirdest thought, ever,

Instead of looking at the folks, and searching for a kind face, and wondering if any of them liked him – he looked around at those faces – all of those strange faces – and wondered for the first time if he actually liked any of them.

And that was the day that Thing started to be free and the day that Thing first knew real happiness.

That was the day that Thing started to love himself.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The House

house

Apart from an occasional family of coyotes, no one lives there any more.

Leastways, not since Silas found his mother cold as ice in her bed that Thanksgiving. After they’d put her in the ground, he took the last of the money from the ginger jar and headed to the Panhandle to look up Sara, his sweetheart.

Don’t let the way it looks fool you. You might go riding by one Sunday and see the house and think it wasn’t much cared for, but that just ain’t the truth. It was a house built and filled with love and like many things in this life, it had its time and its place. It had been made for the time of the Mulligans and nothing else. That’s the way some things just work out.

Grandpa Mulligan had come from Ireland by way of New York City. He found that he couldn’t take to a place with those new-fangled electrical lights. It wasn’t natural and it wasn’t him. He wanted to look at the sky and see it the way God had intended. So he traveled as far west as his money would take him, except for the little bit he’d put aside to buy some land. The scrub he bought wasn’t the best of farming land but it was good enough to raise horses and that is what he knew and that was what he was good at.

Soon Grandpa had a little business going on in town. The railroad still hadn’t hit Fort Augustus yet, so Grandpa was looking after the stagecoach, Calvary and mail horses. He needed a person back in the office to take care of things, keep the books and count the money. When he advertised in the local paper, he didn’t reckon on a woman coming all the way from the north for the job. This turned out to be Grandma. When a twenty-nine year old half-Cherokee beauty presented her self at the stables, my Grandpa ‘just went stone crazy’.

“I had married your Grandma by the end of that year. Sweetest woman I ever knew.”

There were some in the town who didn’t take to a white man marrying a half and half but then in this life you’ll find folks who don’t take to much – everywhere you go. Grandpa always said, “some people have to do what they have to do, don’t mean they’re right and it don’t mean they’re wrong.”

I was never sure if he was referring to himself or the folks who crossed the street when he and my Grandma walked through town.

My mother was the first-born, and when she arrived, my Grandpa made a promise that they’d have a big house on the prairie. He built that place at night and at weekends. He didn’t get much help since the pastor had told the town’s folk that anyone helping a Cherokee lover was a sinner in his eyes. I guess the pastor had to do what he had to do.

My Grandpa’s friend Pete – who gave no heed to whom a man married – helped him build the house and it was finished by the following spring. By then my mother had been joined by her twin brothers.

All in all, the house grew by seven kids: two girls and five boys. My grandpa called his first boy, Pete, after his pal and the other twin he called Sean. After his own brother who had died in the famine back in Ireland. He always said that he would carry Sean’s spirit around with him as they had promised each other when they were boys that they’d go to the United States of America together.

Pete used to sit out on the porch with my Grandpa and tell stories to my Pa about his time in the Civil War.

“Brother against brother, it wasn’t right. Won’t be fixed for a long time. South don’t trust the north and north don’t trust the south.”

Then he’d take a long puff of his clay pipe.

My Grandpa being my Grandpa didn’t take well to the motor car when it showed up in town. Sure they were still using horses but I think my Grandma could see the writing on the wall and told him to hand the business over to the boys. It was a new century and the world was changing mighty fast. My Grandpa still put a shoe on the odd horse here and there, but for all things my Grandpa had retired.

“I ain’t retired,” he would tell folks. “We’re just making time  to see this beautiful country.”

He’d been to the Chicago World’s Fair when he was younger and he still had a drawing on the wall of it. But he’d promised my Grandma that he’d take her to New York City where the ladies dressed in finery and where folks didn’t care if you were half Cherokee or not.

It was in New York that Grandpa met the only other pal, he had. He was known in the family as The Colonel. No one ever explained why he was called that but everyone took to him and his greatest asset was that he had an aeroplane. It hadn’t been long since the Wright Brothers had flown along Kitty Hawk but The Colonel had found out about it and got himself one.

Soon he was flying from town to town and performing little acrobatics for folks who had never seen such magic. When The Colonel first came with my grandparents back to town, the pastor had tried to tell everyone that it was the work of the devil.

“Only Angels fly,” he said, “If God had meant us to fly, we too would have had wings.”

But by this time the town’s folk had grown tired of the pastor and his sermonizing and had decided that flying was a good thing.  It was my father who had really taken to it. He would never leave The Colonel’s side when he was in town. As a thank you, The Colonel would take him up in the aeroplane. When my father was fifteen he tried to build his own ‘plane but it crashed into the barn and he broke his arm and leg.

But let me go right back to the beginning when my Grandpa was living where the house is now, but back then he was squatting in a big tent. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the wild animals would come in and steal his food, but most ways he was really happy. He would tend to the horses in town during the day and at night he’d sit by a big fire and sketch the house he was going to build for his family.

When he had a family – that was.

When he’d meant the right woman – that is.

Yet he didn’t have any doubt that he’d meet the right woman someday and when my Grandma came along, he knew instantly that this was the soul that he was to spend his life.

She lived in town and although she would have thought nothing of living with my Grandpa in the tent where the house was to be built, she felt that she would give the town’s people as little to talk about as possible. So she lived in a little room above the stables on Sycamore Street.

One day when the summer spirits had flown, a man came from the north: a Cherokee, looking for his kinsfolk. His sister had run away and the stories were being told in his tribe that she had taken up with a white man.

“I ain’t a white man, I’m Irish,” said my Grandpa.

But the Cherokee insisted that if his ancestors were not to be angered, she had to return with him to the lands in the north. What the Cherokee didn’t realize was that he was fighting a harder battle, for my grandparents were in love and nothing was going to keep them apart.

“What you cannot trap, you cannot change,” said my Grandma to her brother.

So her brother  realized that he was losing the battle and backed down. He said he would be on his way in the morning and my grandparents seemed happy with that state of affairs. But the Cherokee rose early and on his way through town he woke my Grandma and forced her to come with him. He tied her hands and her mouth in case she had any ideas about screaming.

By the time that my Grandpa realized that the Cherokee had suckered him they were a long way away. That wasn’t going to stop him trying to get his love back because he could not change the way he felt and with all his heart he loved her.

The Cherokee rode with himself and his sister on the one horse and was over the Mountains of The Ancestors by the second day. That night my Grandpa pitched up in a peak overlooking the Lost Valley below. He could see the fire that warmed my Grandma, but those folks were a day’s ride away.

On the third day, at Sam’s Point (so-called because an Englishman jumped and survived from there, when he was escaping the ‘savages’) my Grandpa caught up with the Cherokee and the woman he loved.

The Cherokee made it plain that he was under orders from the ancients to bring his sister back to her family. My Grandpa said he was her family now and that she wanted to return home with him.

There was a legend in that area at that time of a bear called ‘Satchmo’. The biggest goddamn bear that side of the mountains; to most it was only a story. That is, until that day when it showed up to the party.

My Grandpa shouted that the bear was behind the Cherokee but until he smelt him, he didn’t believe that the white man was telling the truth. As the Cherokee turned Satchmo made a swipe at the man and my Grandpa seeing the trouble they were in, made my Grandma hide in the trees. He then got the biggest tree branch he could carry and started to stab at the bear. It looked as if the Cherokee’s days on Earth were numbered, until my Grandpa stabbed the bear right in the eye. It howled and roared and probably said a few cussin’ words in bear talk.

My Grandpa dragged away the Cherokee while the bear got its act together.

My Grandpa then went looking for my Grandma to see that she was all right, and she was – just a little scared of Satchmo; but then, who wouldn’t be?

My grandparents hugged and kissed and just then Satchmo made a run for the two of them. The Cherokee saw what was going to happen and started shouting at the bear to distract him and the bear took the bait and started after the Cherokee.

Her brother realized the only way to save his sister was to tempt the bear to edge of Sam’s Point and hopefully push him over. But that never happened, the Cherokee got trapped at Sam’s Point and decided that if my grandparents were to live, then he must force the bear to jump with him.

And that is what he did. No one knows if he survived the jump. When my grandparents went down the mountain, all they found was Satchmo, as dead as any bear could be. There was no sign of my great-uncle, because that is what the Cherokee was – my family.

He was a Cherokee, as am I.

No one else came from the north to look for my Grandma after that.

Did I tell you? I still miss her.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Shock

american

The smell of disinfectant on the yellowed tiled floor, dances with the stink of pee and heralds my attendance to the room, once more.

I can hear the crack and zap of the electrical rods that will rightly let me see the world as it should be, once again.

They’re only here to help: they’ve told me that enough, for goodness sake mister smith it’s nineteen fifty-three. This is a modern world.

I teach mathematics at the local college where the students can call me prof. Some do, some don’t, you can’t enforce these things.It isn’t that I am ashamed of anything I’ve done; I’ve tried to be a man of tolerance, of kindness.

I love my wife and my two upright, all American children – they will make us all proud, one day.

But as they strap the rods to the side of my head, I remember all the pain that’s to come and how it’s for my best, I mean, they’ve told me so.

It was only a photo, that’s what I told my wife. That’s what I told the cops. That’s what I told the judge. That’s what I told the doctors.

I can hear the hum of the machine, getting ready to burn that dark devil inside my head. I’ll be a better man for it. I know that now.

A professor of Mathematic shouldn’t have a photo like that in his desk.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Montana Express

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The Montana Express was a wind that found its temperature somewhere around the northern end of Canada and then didn’t stop until it hit the Gulf. Our home was in its path, and so every April it would bring an unseasonable coldness to our valley which affected almost everyone and everything.

It was on one of those April days that the table was finally delivered. My grandfather had chosen the wood himself and it had taken several men two months to build. My grandfather wanted a table that could seat all of our family and especially on his birthday. Something which took place towards the end of the month.

“I want to see all my loved ones in the one place, is that too much to ask?” He would say to no one in particular.

But he was right, our family was spread far and wide: all of them farmers or ranchers. All of them doing okay but too busy to ever socialize with one and other. We’d normally meet briefly at the end of someone’s life or at the start of another – but otherwise, all points in between were just plain ignored. That is, until my grandfather declared his birthday a national holiday for the family.

“I don’t care what you’re all doin’. I want you to put aside whatever the hell it is you find so goddamn important, so’s we can all finally get together. Lord knows I ain’t got long left.”

And that, as they say, was that. Every April, 27th we would meet around the big table and celebrate being a family. My grandfather would recite some Shakespeare (the English guy who wrote plays) and we would listen and not really understand but we’d clap and holler all the same when he was done. My grandfather had a biggest painting of the Englishman on his wall just ‘cause they shared the same birthday. My grandfather said that Shakespeare was a genius and I guess he was right.

That first April there were seventeen of us around the table. I guess we’d all forgotten just how much we really needed each other.

The following year two of my brothers and two of my uncles went off to Europe to fight in the war. So we set them a place at the table anyhow – just in case they turned up and were hungry and all.

One of my brothers, and one of my uncles didn’t come home in the end. They were buried in France – somewhere warm I hear where the Montana Express ain’t blowin’.

But we would still set the table for seventeen just so we could raise a glass to absent friends. When my boy was five he joined the table, and so did my sister’s kid. And we were seventeen again.

It was early in 1950 when grandfather left the table for the last time and he was shortly followed by grandmother. My eldest brother took the head seat and although we weren’t quite seventeen again we managed through.

As the years went on we tried to make April 27th the Family Day. It didn’t matter where you were in the world, we’d always try to make it home to the big table. But my kids grew and married and didn’t really want to work on the land no more. One of my boys lived in Paris, France and another moved with his family to Nova Scotia.

Yet we always laid that table for seventeen.

When my wife’s place at the table went empty, I kind of lost the heart to keep it going. By this time I was the head of the table. Some years there were only four of us, but still we set the table for seventeen.

It was just before my 65th birthday that I took the heart attack. Man it was the worst pain I ever felt. They stuck me in the local hospital and I rested for the first time in my life. My boys came with their kids, and my nieces and nephews, and in the end when I got out of hospital there was about thirty of us all round that big table.

My eldest grandson asked why the table was only set for seventeen and I told him the story. He said that it should set for everyone in the family and I had to say I thought he was right. The table belongs to the living after all.

Now every year they meet up and it’s laid out for everyone who makes it to the table. But they always leave two empty places just in case one of us who left the table a long time ago happens to drop by.


bobby stevenson 2016

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Thing and His Song

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Thing was never going to sing at the Paris Opera but that wasn’t the point; he sang because he liked it. It made him happy. Thing’s father was always whistling a tune and he did it so often that most times he didn’t seem to notice.

“What’s that tune?” Thing would ask.

“Heck, if I know,” said his dad.

Thing’s mother would also ‘tut’ at that point because she didn’t think that folks should say ‘heck’.

Thing’s father had told him that the Great Thing in the sky probably put a tune in everyone’s heart when they were born and that was the tune they worked by all their lives. It was the one they sang when they were scared, or happy, or in love, or sad or just because they felt like it.

Thing had a song about jumping as high as the clouds and on those days when he was blue or later on when he missed his parents, he would shout it out as loud as he could all around the cave and do you know what? He felt a whole lot better.

Sometimes in town he would sing the song real quite like so the he didn’t feel so alone.

Some sunny days in spring, folks would bring their geetars down to the town square and they’d sing about this and that and the other. Big one and small ones would stand and listen and join in -, if the feeling took them. It left everyone humming tunes as they walked home.

Thing wished he could sing just one song that would make folks happy and have them all whistling tunes and perhaps they would stand around and join in.

One day at school his teacher asked each person in the class to stand and do something special, tell a joke, perform a card trick, tell about their grandma – anything that was a little unique to them.

Thing listened in awe at the folks in his class, he laughed, he cried, he applauded and he hollered when the person deserved it –  although as Mrs Hills said, ‘hollering was for outside’.

Then it was Thing’s turn and he stood and he sang his jumping song. I think it was Casey Briggs who shouted ‘What cha call that? A thong? He ain’t singing he’s thinging’ and most of the folks in the class began to laugh. Mrs Hills clapped her hands, thanked Thing and asked him to sit again.

For a long time after and a long time after that, folks would shout across the street at him about ‘Thing the thinger who sings thongs’. Now I ain’t telling you this story about Thing so you’ll feel sorry and all – Thing wasn’t like that –  Thing had a song in his heart which had been placed there by the Great Thing in the sky the day he was born and it was his duty to sing the song if it made him happy.

Thing once asked his Dad, when he’d had a bad day with the folks in school, if maybe the problem was that we all had different songs in our hearts and that some folks didn’t want to listen or couldn’t hear the other folks’ tunes.

“Heck, you just might be right there, little ‘un’,” said his dad.

His mother gave out another ‘tut’ because of that word being used again.

Thing realised that the way he heard his song was probably not the way the other folks heard it. It didn’t mean anyone was wrong or right. It was just that a tune is a tune and only really exists to make you happy. If the others don’t like your tune then you should just sing it to yourself.

So you’re already packing up this story and thinking we’ve arrived at the end of it – but you’d be wrong.

One day when Thing was sitting at the door of his cave, some horses were grazing nearby and just at that point Thing felt the need to sing the tune he’d been given.

One by one the horses came over and stood and listened and shook their heads, the way horses do, and then they rubbed their heads against Thing as a way of thanking him.

You see, you couldn’t make everyone like your song – that wasn’t why you had been given it – but sometimes when you least expected it your song might seep into someone else’s heart and make them feel a whole lot better .

Thing decided you should never let anyone stop you singing your song and never ever change it or you just might miss a friend who likes your tune.

bobby stevenson 2016

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Lahti, Finland

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The Midnight sun seared the ice-cracked streets.

He sat drinking a Finnish beer and watching the old vintage cars making their umpteenth circuit of the same block. That’s what people did up here, work all winter on old American cars, making them look fine and dandy and then come the summer, drive them proudly through Lahti’s city centre.

To live at the edge of the world made you a different creature from the rest, it made you harder, more observant, more ready to indulge, more patient, more sorrowful.

There is a sliver of sorrow that punctures all of life up here and leaves the heart wide open. The difficult language sets the Finns apart from the others. They are proud of its complexity and its differences.

He was lonely but then who wouldn’t be up here? Scandinavia was the mother-lode of loneliness; they mined the stuff in the hills and shipped it to the world.

He checked his pockets and found he’d spent the money he’d taken from the room, so he managed to steal a lonely beer from the table opposite.

It was three twenty-five am and he’d almost forgotten the time such was the light blue sky. Like a summer’s day in London. He’d almost forgotten a lot of things but they always bubbled their way back to the surface of his thoughts.

He’d been living at the Hotelii Helsinki for nearly five months now and was starting to call it home. In that lay a danger, Finland was not home but then neither was anywhere else.

He just wished, right at that precise moment, that the world would just stop, maybe for an hour or two so that he could think of what to do next. But it never did, it just kept going, it kept catching up with him and he was afraid.

When had he first met her? In the street? No. At the dance? Probably the dance, it was the most obvious place. You couldn’t say she wasn’t attractive with her fine blonde hair and those cheekbones; God, those cheek bones that were borrowed from an angel.

In any other society she would have been fighting them off but not here. Here, she had to travel over forty kilometres to attend the dance. Was ‘a dance’ the right words? It really didn’t do it justice. This was a gathering, a social event, a news swapping forum and a pickup joint.

They were mostly farmers, foresters and their families and each Saturday, every Saturday they travelled vast distances to meet at the Traffic Light Saturday Dance.

Every weekend he’d sit in the Reception Hall of the hotel watching them arrive. Faces that had been ground down by the wind over the years, faces that sat on top of bodies all decked out in fancy sports clothing. Not the real designer gear of course but cheap copies probably bought from a travelling Russian.

All of them happy and drunk, the same way a Titanic passenger would have been happy and drunk. There was a forced camaraderie about them all, perhaps due to the fact these were the first humans they had felt heat from all week.

There were never any pretty ones – was that because they had left the backwoods to trade in on their looks? Or because the midnight sun eventually stole the pretty faces?

Sometimes he would ride up in the elevator with them, not that he understood their language but just so that he could feel the heat of another.

They would all fall out at the same floor and he would be left with only the smell of booze, cheap scent and himself; and the coldness.

There were only two modes to living in the north: Dark and Light. Several months of twenty-four hour darkness brought a resignation to nature, then it brought the ghosts – the dark thoughts that usually inhabited the night and were gone in the morning – were not washed away up here by the light of day. The dark thoughts persisted.

Then came the bleaching of the constant daylight, there were no contrasts, no shaded area to take shelter, and the ghosts persisted in the sunshine. He thought that funny, that once the ghosts came they came to stay.

The Traffic light stood in the middle of the dance floor, when it was green the man could ask the woman to dance. When it was at red, the woman could either sit a dance out or ask the man.

There was no doubting it, she was very pretty.

She had asked him to dance and then he had asked her. Her English was as bad as his Finnish, so they signed to each other, then they kissed. The universal kiss, there was no doubting that.

What he hadn’t expected was to find her gone when he awoke. The pillow was still smelling of her scent and still warm from her heat.

The bed was growing cold again and sunlight burned through the curtains.

It would be another week, another seven days of living until he felt her body next to him again, to feel that heat again.

He understood them now and he understood their dances. There was a need in all of us to feel the warmth of others.

So he turned away from the light and wept.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Dirty River Mansions: Jeremiah’s Story

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His house was the furthest from the river and it did Jeremiah good to know it was so.

“I hate the water, hate the water, hate, hate, hate, the water,” was his little song that no one ever paid any attention to.

It was also obvious was that when you brushed close to Jeremiah that he also did not like soap. But he had the biggest of hearts and all of those who lived in Dirty River Mansions would not have a word said against the gent. Not a single utterance.

The house that was furthest from the river had three floors.

Jeremiah had started as a child with his family on the bottom floor, a place given to them on the death of Jeremiah’s grandmother. The process was to wait until the occupant above you died and then you would move into that property. The only way you could jump straight to the top floor (the best of them the rooms with a spectacular view over old London town) was if the occupants of floors two and three perished at the same time. That was very rare, very rare indeed. So rare that the last time it happened Queen Victoria had been smiling on that day. Not due to the occupants of Dirty River Mansions quietly dying, but rather because Prince Albert had told her a particularly amusing story.

Jeremiah was now on the top floor with all the respect that a position like that deserved. However in the years that it had taken him to be raised to such a lofty height, it had also seen an increase in his overall size. It was an irony to those like Jeremiah, that when one was on the ground floor, one tended to be young and skinny. The opposite being true for the top floor in the building; it was a struggle to get up and down the creaky wooden stairs and Jeremiah found it all so much easier to stay where he was.

This meant that when any one wanted to see the ‘great man’, then they had to go to him. It gave Jeremiah the impression of being an oracle for the great and good of Dirty River Mansions and its surrounding areas.

“Go and see the Great Jeremiah,” would be the advice on market day if someone uttered a worry or a complaint.

“My feet are hurting,” Oh go and visit Jeremiah, he has so many potions, he will help you.

Of course none of it was in any way true. When people came to see Jeremiah they tended to be carrying the answers deep inside themselves. ‘If only they trusted their hearts and minds’ thought Jeremiah, ‘they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to come and see me’.

Although Jeremiah loved the company, he just felt that a lot of people’s time would be better spent doing other things than visiting Dirty River Mansions.

So one lovely warm day, he walked all the way to the door at the bottom of his house and put up a piece of paper in his very own handwriting.

If you have problem – do you have an idea in your head or your heart on how to solve it or make it better?

If ‘YES’, then go and try it. If it fails, then come and see me.

Jeremiah was half disappointed and yet a little pleased with himself when no one turned up to see him the following week.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Dancing With Mister D. (3 stories)

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Charles the Boy


 

black

(The blacking factory on the left at Hungerford stairs – near present day Charing Cross station)

It was a blue-cold winter’s day and another poor soul was lying dead at the bottom of the Hungerford Stairs.

The boy was just standing there staring at the corpse.

That was the first time I ever clapped eyes on the little urchin. He was surely no more than twelve years of age at the time and making him a year or so older than me.

I will always remember his eyes, for in those eyes was the story of a child who had been rattled by his life thus far.

He became my friend and my companion and not a day went by in those glorious few months of the winter of 1824 into the spring of 1825 that I was not spending time in his company. We were the best of friends.

On that day that I write of, I had only, a few moments earlier, sneaked out of my kindly Uncle Bertie’s haberdashery store on Charing Cross Road. I had been instructed to ‘remove the snow from the entrance’ for the tenth time that particular day:

“And, Sam, for pity’s sake don’t bring upset to any of my customers”

Perhaps I should introduce myself before we go further dear readers, my name is Sam Weller. I was born and raised in Bermondsey, London and due to my lack of schooling I was sent off with unnatural haste to work with my uncle.

“Goodness knows young Sam Weller will never amount to much, but he must acquire a trade.”

I was now in my second year of such an endeavour. I neither begged nor looked for sympathy because the way I considered it, it left an individual free to take upon everything that life had to offer. For surely not everyone in this life who reads a book is a gentleman? Just as not every uneducated child is an idiot. Because, dear reader, as you can appreciate, I had learned much in my short life.

But I digress – such a disagreeable trait – but that is the making of my heart, I am afraid to say.

The poor man whose body lay at the bottom of the Hungerford steps had expired in the black of night having succumbed to the freezing air, one shouldn’t wonder. There were many similar finds in a winter of such magnitude. Each day the snow came faster and thicker and I would secrete myself to that part of the Thames hoping to discover some gruesome find. I was rarely disappointed.

That day was the first I remember seeing Charlie. He stood at the top of the stairs promoting such an unhappy account of himself that I thought he too would expire at any moment. Happily for the world, it was not to be.

My inquisitiveness drove me to question the lad. Had he seen the man die? Did he know the man in question? Was he working in this part of the river?

My final question did raise a look from the lad. Yes, he was indeed working next to the Hungerford steps at Warren’s blacking warehouse. The boy said those words with so much sadness that it was all I could do not to offer him a smile there and then.

“My name is Charlie and I work at the blacking warehouse in order to free my father from the Marshalsea.”

“The debtor’s work house?” I clumsily enquired.

“Indeed.”

It seemed, from what I could glean from the lad, that his whole family was currently living in the Marshalsea with only the boy himself living outside the premises, in the area of Camden.

I just knew there and then that we would become great friends and indeed it came to pass.

As the winter grew colder and sterner, Charlie and I would spend a few quiet minutes in the grounds behind my uncle’s haberdashery.

Although the gardens were only truly for the customers to gaze upon, it had been kept in the most wonderful of conditions by my aunt’s gardener, Mister Wilkins Micawber.  Both Charlie and he seemed to take to one another and would spend time discussing their interests in gardening.

Charlie loved being in that place and when he was older, he wrote to me the most wonderful letter describing it as the ‘gardens of happiness in a woeful forest’.

His life was a miserable existence at that juncture and he much appreciated the merest time spent away from Fagin – the ogre who ruled over the warehouse with an iron fist.

My cousin David Copperfield joined us one day prior to Christmas and both he and Charlie laughed so hard that they made themselves cry.

I will always remember the man on the other side of the high garden wall, a Mister Pickwick. In all those weeks we never saw his face and yet he would entertain us with stories of derring-do, of adventures in battles and ghosts at Christmas.

Every shoe that Charlie blackened that winter was a step nearer the door and freedom for his dear papa. The little freedom of his own that he tasted in my company and in my uncle’s garden seemed to raise the gloom that sat so easily on his young shoulders.

When the winter melted away to spring so, sadly, did our friendship.

I will always remember the boy who grew to become one of the world’s greatest writers and I am proud to say that he was my friend. When I read his Pickwick Papers and saw that the happiest character was named Sam Weller, after me, I shed a tear.

Just as I do today, all those years later. They buried my childhood friend this morning at Westminster Abbey in the quietness he would have wished for.

When a flower requires to grow from a seedling into a beautiful form, it needs the frosts and snows of winter and, in his way, so did Charles.

So do we all.

 

Charles,The Man


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(Actual photo of Staplehurst rail crash – 1865)

“But in the world where there is no stay but the hope of a better (world), and no reliance but on the mercy and goodness of God. Through these two harbours of a shipwrecked heart….”

Charles Dickens, letter, October 1865.

I want you to sit comfortably and find comfort in this strangest of tales. Some swear it is true, although there are just as many who would disagree. Perhaps in the passing of the years and in the re-telling, the shadowy remembrance of the truth has been lost. I am hoping, however, that you will be my judge and jury.

Our story concerns one warm day in June 1865 in the most beautiful Kent village of Shoreham, a day like many others where the occupants of this little haven are wrapped up in their day-to-day chores; all of them unaware of a train crash which has taken place several miles away.

The centre of our tale is the Crown public house occupied by the hard-working Mistress Squib and her family.

Eliza Squib has not seen her husband for many a year but we will not speak unkindly of that soul, rather we meet with Eliza as she takes the first opportunity of the day to sit and mend the clothes of her two children.

Her son, who stands beside her, is Obadiah Squib, the man of the house and full of all the life that God can give a heart. His wish is to sail the oceans and by this method find his father – but we shall leave that tale for another time.

The boy who sits reading in the corner is the other apple of Eliza’s eye, young Benedict, who has been on this earth the merest of summers, yet he is assuming all the finer qualities that could be wished for in a son.

Finally we meet Charlotte Squib and let no harsh construct be heard against her. Charlotte is a good soul of infinite compassion and has sacrificed her life to work from morn’ through late evenings to compensate for her brother’s mysterious disappearance, Eliza’s errant husband. Ever since her brother’s parting Charlotte has been compelled to repeat the same incantation…

“He will return, I swear it.”

Eliza smiles as she has done a thousand times before and for all their worries and concerns they are a happy band and one that providence has decreed should assist our Mister Charles Dickens in his most troubled of times.

And so our story begins with an innocent knock at the door of the public house.

“Sweet bird of youth and such a time as this; tut, tut”

At the door stands Mister Dickens, his mistress Ellen Ternan (known as Nelly) and