Other Worlds

WELCOME TO THE HAAR

a bijou creative arts e-zine named after the Scottish sea mist

Photograph by Graham Morgan

Graham Morgan is a writer, dog walker, book reader, cook and seashore wanderer. He lives with his family in Argyll. He would love you to read his memoir, START about love, madness and the Highlands. Photography is a new adventure for him. His website is https://graeme7052.wixsite.com/gmorgan and his Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/graham_morgan_author/

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe.”
Sa
muel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Summer is a time when we need to escape our mundane reality. This year in particular we yearn for a change of scene, to explore Other Worlds. It’s been a long Covid winter and now we just want to get away. You can do that right here at The Haar without leaving the comfort of your sofa. You don’t need a passport or a new suitcase, you don’t need to quarantine or wear a face mask…all you need is your imagination. A talented group of writers, artists and photographers are ready to whisk you away to incredible places, interior and exterior landscapes, the past, the future, the worlds of music and books, wild places not marked on any map. Invisible worlds and fairy lands. To start our fantastic journey we have an interview with award-winning screenwriter and poet Martyn Hesford – there is no better escape than the Other Worlds of cinema and theatre. Then we have stories with twists and turns from Toby Goodwin, Sharon Gunason Pottinger, A. Quiller and Kevin Crowe. Karen Strang shares her darkly beautiful painting, Geoff Weston and Brian Ord intrigue us with the unexpected. There are marvellous poems that will inspire and move you from George Gunn, Mandy Beattie, Georgia Brooker and many others. There is a competition with poetry books as prizes and much more. So sit back, fasten your seat belt and prepare for take-off!

Please keep on scrolling to the very bottom of the page and don’t miss any of the treasures to be discovered in The Haar. Comments can be left at the end and also on the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thepurplehermit/

Contents in Order of Appearance:-


Martyn Hesford and the Poetry of Everything interview by Nikita Shackleton
Lilac White Competition
Ballet by George Gunn
The Opening by Magenta Kent
Boundaries and Thresholds by Ian Tallach
Around the Circle by Meg Macleod
Untitled photograph by Alan Thoburn
A Walk in the Woods by A Quiller
Startlings by Georgia Brooker
The Crow Garden by Karen Strang
Inside the Kist of Caithness by Mandy Beattie
The End of the Day by Nikita Shackleton
Forbidden by Melanie Fearon
Goldilocks by Kevin Crowe
Butte, Montana, June 2015 by Geoff Weston
Ozymandias Reborn by Sharon Gunason
Ageing Dragon by Moira McPartlin
The Dance by Magenta Kent
The Permanent Room by Tom Murray
Asleep-Awake by Mandy Beattie
Untitled image by Rukhsana C
Escape by Isabel Garford
Decapitated by Mass Index
Turn it Up by Toby Goodwin
Looking for Blind Willie by Ian Tallach
The Lost World by Magenta Kent
Odin by Moira Weir
Globe by John Mcmahon
The New York Times Interviews Ms Ocean by Nikita Shackleton
The Sirens by Brian Ord
Mattaclarksville by Brian Ord
London Blitz 1943 by Melanie Fearon
The Rising Sun Country Park by Geoff Weston
Amongst the Flutterers by Trudy Gritte
Petals Dropping by Chrissie Morris Brady
I Stand Waiting by Meg Macleod

Martyn Hesford

Martyn Hesford and the Poetry of Everything

Interview by Nikita Shackleton

  1. Hello Martyn, it’s wonderful to be talking to you today about your career and your new poetry book, Lilac White. I hope I don’t have too many questions for you! First of all I wondered what were your creative influences as a young boy growing up in Salford in the sixties and seventies?

The pantomime. The beautiful colours of the scenery, the clothes, the makeup, the music. The excitement of “whats behind the red velvet curtain?” A fairyland. While outside in the street, the misty sleet and fog. The orange glow of street lamps. Two separate worlds. Both mixed up together as a child. Still is today. Many worlds.

  1. What made you choose a career in the performing arts?

I wanted to be loved! I didn’t fit in at school. Little fairy boys didn’t/don’t. I went onto a stage. A talent contest at a holiday camp, five years old. Again, I remember the separation from a reality, standing behind the coloured footlights. Protected from the dark (the audience). Everything up on the stage felt warm. I sang a song. And I heard applause. And I thought, “I like this”. I felt safe.

  1. What are your strongest memories of your time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama?

The opera singers, and pianos, the violins, the sounds floating down corridors. I met other people who accepted me. They didn’t laugh at me. We all laughed together. We were starting out into a new world.

  1. How was your experience of working alongside Richard Burton in your first film role in Absolution?

Like standing in front of a thousand bright electric lights! He was a star. The old school. He arrived for rehearsals in a fur coat. He was a kind man. Sat in the corner of the studio, reading poetry. He asked would I steal him a poetry book he liked off the set. He thought someone would notice him doing it. He wanted to read it that night. No e-books then. So… I did.

  1. How did it feel to make the transition from actor to screenwriter, to move from the limelight to behind the scenes writing words for others to interpret?

I was always writing, making up stories, plays. As an actor, I always liked rehearsing, finding out what the play was saying. I gradually got fed up of acting night after night. I remember thinking, working in television, “I can write better than this script. I’m not acting a part, I’m making poor writing sound natural.” So I did. I wrote my first screenplay. Nobody was interested. Until fate… I entered a competition. It was for new screenplays “The Radio Times Drama Award”. I won. And all the people who had turned down the screenplay, suddenly wanted it. The BBC made it, starring Allison Steadman. It was successful and I was offered writing commissions. I stopped acting. I miss being part of a production, with actors, but I like the solitary world of writing. I can spend the day anywhere.

  1. You have written for Radio, TV, Theatre and Film. Which is your favourite medium and why?

Poetry is my favourite. It’s my true voice. My voice was always lyrical. But television wouldn’t allow for that much. They are obsessed with moving the story along. Theatre is wonderful, but it can only happen with financial investment, and the same for film. Everybody is frightened of failure. Producers make you write the life out of your work, trying to control everything. Radio is imagination, but less and less so. Poetry is me and a pencil and that’s it. The old fashioned way. Myself and a pencil and paper. I write by hand. I like to feel the words. Speak them aloud. Poetry is the space in between the words. The invisible. The unsaid is almost more important than the said. It’s you and your reader. A mirror. People will see what’s inside them, as much as you.

  1. In your most recent film work, Mrs Lowry and Son I was struck by the poetic dialogue employing similar images and symbols to those in your new poetry collection Lilac White? Which came first, the screenplay or the poems?

I never wrote a poem until lockdown last year. Not properly. Although in my screenplays, the poetry was always in the stage directions, to give the script a continuous rhythm. Painting pictures with words. But those pictures are filmed not spoken. My dialogue has always had a lyrical quality, that’s just me. The film came from my London stage play. My theatre voice allowed poetry. We didn’t want to change that. It was the inner voice of the film. In lockdown, I started writing the poetry, and words flooded out. They wouldn’t stop. Poem after poem. All the feelings of a lifetime, I’d buried away. I have a friend who has spent her life reading poetry. I sent one to her and then another. She told me I could write poetry so I just continued and they kept on coming, like magic. My friend is called Penelope and Lilac White is dedicated to her. I cannot spell. I’d send the poems over to her by email and she’d write them out beautifully in green ink (she was keeping a record). There were so many I was losing them. I met Penelope two years ago, after leaving London. She spoke of poetry a lot. I thought, I must write my own before I’m dead. I used to tell people I was a poet when I was drunk. It was something I always felt inside. Lockdown (not writing for a career), let me do it. Find the poet.

  1. In Mrs Lowry and Son there are many powerful passages in the dialogue that resonate with me, particularly the scene where Lowry is on top of a hill looking down on an industrial landscape. “There’s a mystery in everything, a poetry. People think they can do what they want. They can’t you know. Nobody is free. We’re all captured in a picture and everybody is a stranger to everyone else.”
    Please would you elaborate on this. Is it a reference to the class system?

Yes. But all classes are trapped in some way. So for me this quote is about the soul. We think we are bigger and more important than the whole, but we are not. We are all part of the same picture. We are the picture. As one. We are sold a reality, but underneath everything, there is an invisible world that never changes. The poetry of everything. Great artists find that. Lowry knew that and said so again and again in his work.

  1. How did your relocation from London to a northern seaside town three years ago influence your writing?

I was born in Salford. The flowers were called weeds. I have always been influenced by the magic of nature. There is always the sky, wherever you live. City, country, or sea.
I suppose the sea has influenced my poetry. The movement, the vastness. The swirling liquid. It’s a huge mirror. And the disappearance of birds into dots. Have you ever seen a full moon reflecting on the sea? London has many things, but not the sea.

  1. The poems in your wonderful poetry collection Lilac White have an ethereal quality undercut with a darkness reminiscent of old fairy tales. Poem No 22 starting with “there is perfume on a shelf waiting to be opened” unfolds like a film. The reader is taken on a journey around a house where there are secrets. What was your inspiration for these poems? Did you have reasons for using numbers instead of titles and for the minimal use of punctuation?

The poems are a journey for someone. The reader and the poet. It is a mixture, a spell of words of this world and another (outer and inner). Many different worlds happening at the same time. Layers. Some fairytale, some mystical, some sacred. It’s a journey of putting them together, not intellectually thinking, but a feeling. The more you try and explain them, the more they will drift away. They have to float. They don’t have names because that would give each a label. It would colour the poem. It would say look for this, it’s about this. They are numbered in the order they should be read. Lilac White is one long poem, really. Words creating a spell. They magic a feeling. They are simply said, but vast! Ha ha. Less is always more. They will mean different things to different people. I know what they mean to me. A lifetime.

  1. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers of The Haar?

Don’t regret anything in life. Everything that happens to you in art, you can use. Don’t worry about success. Just do it. Don’t judge yourself against others. Just paint it, write it, see it. Keep Seeing. FEEL.

  1. And finally a fun question:- If you were an animal what would you be and why?

A dog. But not really. A bird. They can fly away.

Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Martyn!

Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it. I was an actor remember – Oh, the attention!

Martyn Hesford is a BAFTA nominated screenwriter and former actor perhaps best known for his film Mrs Lowry and Son. His first poetry collection Lilac White has a stunning surface simplicity which belies a deeply moving anthology of poems, influenced by his personal journey through life. It is available to buy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lilac-White-Martyn-Hesford-ebook/dp/B08XZLWGGR/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2WDH16U44YQZB&dchild=1&keywords=lilac+white+by+martyn+hesford&qid=1624184685&sprefix=Lilac+white%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-1

ENTER THE COMPETITION TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF LILAC WHITE by answering the following five questions. The information needed can be found by thoroughly reading this issue of The Haar. The first two people to send in correct answers via the Contact Page above will receive their copies of Lilac White by Royal Mail. Here are the questions:- 1. Where did Martyn Hesford study drama? 2. Which book did John choose? 3. Who delivered the note to The New York Times? 4. What colour was Amy’s hand knitted cardigan? 5. What or who will ‘enter the dreaming of the people.’ The closing date for entries is 7th July. Good luck!

BALLET By George Gunn

She sat so small like a bird
watching TV in the kitchen
I asked her to come through
to the living room & the fire
but she drifted out to sea
like a tuft of marram grass after a storm

she was pale blue
as thin as paper
reduced to soap operas
& the useless weather forecast
we were both rendered hopeless
by the grey dog at the door

now I walk between
two newly ploughed fields
a shower of hailstones catches me
the sweeping dance
of the white on the black
the ballet of our lives

George Gunn is from Thurso in Caithness. In 2021 he will publish his 10th book of poems “Chronicles of The First Light” (Drunk Muse Press). He has had over 50 plays produced for stage and radio. He writes for the magazine Bella Caledonia. He is currently the Caithness Makar with Lyth Arts Centre.

The Opening by Magenta Kent

BOUNDARIES AND THRESHOLDS by Ian Tallach

We ventured out into the brittle air, but not together.
You skidded to the river, Ribheag straining at the leash. A tree had fallen on the ice– so many shards in all directions. A veritable winter wonderland.
Morag shuffled to the corner-shop for tissues. She cries a lot these days.
I went to the beach. What happened was too strange to mention. No-one would believe it.


Today we zoom. Just three squares on the screen. ‘How was the river?’ Morag asks.
‘Beautiful,’ you say. ‘I’m thinking of writing a poem about boundaries.’
‘Pray continue,’ we chime together.
You clear your throat. ‘Well, maybe the spaces between us have got frozen, like those shards. I dropped a family picture once and when I picked it up, I cut my finger. Blood seeped along the fracture lines between us. I had to phone them all – I was s-s-so scared.’ You shudder. Morag tries to pass you a tissue. Everyone laughs.
‘I haven’t written anything,’ Morag confesses. ‘I… I just don’t have the… integrity… to write about this thing. And what else can you write about?’
We nod together.
‘What about yourself?’ they ask me.
‘Well, I had a dream.’ I lie.
‘With strangers in it, again?’
‘No. I’m at the beach. Alistair, my neighbour, is approaching, following the margin of the sea and sand, exactly. As the waves come in, his feet move with them and, as they recede, he drifts towards the sea. His progress doesn’t seem to be affected, though. He stops just twenty feet away and looks in my direction, but not at me, really. Also, his hair is blowing, but not with the wind. His shadow stretches out towards the sun. ‘We’re not r-really both here… are we?’ I sputter.
‘We will get through this.’ His voice is sonorous. He returns the way he came.’


In Spring, we’ll walk together, watching bounding hares. Ice will be turned to bubbles– perfect hexagonal prisms, pulling away from each other. We’ll sit on the grass. And I will tell them what I can’t just yet – it was not a dream.

Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.

I move slowly by Meg Macleod

around the circle
a wolf in the forest
howls at the moon

my pulsing veins are rich in history
and tomorrow’s dreaming
I call back to the wolf

my feet tread the earth
my heart is somewhere else
dancing on the wind

trees break the light of the moon
falling like silver dust around me
I sense the wolf closing in

Meg was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.

Photograph by Alan Thoburn

Alan Thoburn is a documentary photographer who aims to take a ‘conceptual’ approach to his work. The work is intended to be metaphorical to some extent. He is currently exploring other ways to make art. Website: https://alanthoburn.com/

A WALK IN THE WOODS by A. Quiller

CALEB TURNER had been looking forward to today –
Not just because it made a change from the drab, grey concrete and steel he’d known all his life… but, more, because he might yet get a chance to tell Jess Waite how he felt about her.
He was sure he hadn’t been imagining it. The ever-so-lingering looks whenever he caught her eye in class. The coy smiles. Her whispering and giggling with friends. The reddening of her cheeks…
He just needed to get her on her own. Away from the others. Away from Mrs Millington’s all-seeing gaze. She didn’t miss a trick, that one; unlike dopey Harkness – he couldn’t give a damn what they got up to… just marking time till he got his pension. What was it they said about teachers leaving their mark on you? These two he’d forget as easily as quadratic equations; control-alt-delete them from his life just as soon as he got out of school. Sayonara, suckers…
But that was still two years’ away.
Easier to bear, though, with Jess by his side.
‘Are you joining us, Mr Turner?’
Today, of all days, he couldn’t afford to be excluded for bad behaviour. He allowed himself a moment; breathed deeply, swallowed his pride; resisted the temptation to sound off, to put her in her place. It never ended well, did it? Detention. Not to mention points docked from his scores. ‘Yes, Miss,’ he replied simply.
‘Well, Class, now Mr Turner’s so graciously honoured us with his presence, perhaps we can begin? I’d like you to get into pairs, then follow on behind me. Mr Harkness will be bringing up the rear. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open as we go round, as there’ll be a test afterwards. Your information packs list most of the flora and fauna you’re likely to see; anything else, feel free to discuss in your respective pairs…’
A few moments’ commotion; the usual disagreements – some individuals refusing to be paired with others.
Caleb felt a light brush against his hand.
Jess, right there, next to him. Her gaze intense, as if inviting him to pop the question; ask her to be his partner for the walk. His mouth was suddenly dry. He felt his palms grow suddenly clammy.
‘Come on, we’ve haven’t got all day,’ boomed Mrs Millington. ‘Right,’ she was gesticulating, ‘You… and you… you’re a pair. Same goes for both of you. And you two.’ Dissent in the ranks. ‘I don’t want to hear it!’ A wave in Jess Waite’s direction. ‘Pair up with Tulley, will you? Which leaves… you, Caleb Turner…’ A clicking of her tongue. ‘Oh… looks like you’ll have to keep Mr Harkness company. Now, stop moaning, everyone, and get a move on!’
Inwardly, Caleb was cursing himself. Too slow. All he needed to have done was ask Jess if he could pair up with her. Instead, there she was now, walking with Ade Tulley. Still, could have been worse. At least Ade was a geek; no way he’d be interested in her.’
‘Turner?’
‘Sir?’
‘Just get on about your business, will you? I’ve… calls I need to make.’
‘Of course, Sir.’
Calls to make? Caleb bet he had. Rumour had it old Harkness was cheating on his wife. One of the maths teachers; twenty years his junior, and then some.
He set off, following the others; noticing out of the corner of his eye Harkness was already dropping back. A fact that didn’t escape Mrs Millington.
‘Mr Harkness. Mr Harkness,’ she was calling. With no reply, no acknowledgment from him, she seemed to give up. ‘Onwards, Class!’
Even this little way along the path, Caleb was amazed by his surroundings. The vibrant greens of the trees to either side. Their leaves seeming to dance in unison whenever stirred by a breeze. A totally different world to the cramped, confines of the featureless place he called home. How uplifting, how magical it must be to live in an environment such as this.
Gradually, he noticed more of his senses coming alive…
For it wasn’t just what he was seeing… so, too, he was surrounded by noise; gentle, subtle… the chattering of unseen birds hiding in the greenery above him. Watching carefully, he spied several figures darting quickly from tree to tree; too fast to him to get a clear view. Their song, strangely hypnotic; the repeating patterns now becoming clearer. A short melody. An answering call from somewhere near at hand.
As he followed the others deeper into the wood, he turned his attention to the path beneath him. A mix of dry, brown leaves; small twigs; a crumbly soil that, as he kicked at it, seemed to release a strange odour – the likes of which he couldn’t place. Not quite something rotting, but… quietly decaying… but with a purpose; a perpetual, natural cycle?
Shouts from up ahead of him.
He caught up, saw the others had reached a clearing; a stream off to one side, just down a slight incline. He noticed several of the girls were kneeling down; fingers outstretched towards the waters; making flicking movements – trying to splash one another. And, where a drop landed home – cold on a face – they’d flinch; laugh at the sudden feeling.
It was then it hit him. In that single moment. The beauty of the place. And the beauty of Jess. Shafts of sunlight streaming down; ever-changing patterns on the ground. Jess, smiling at him. Her hair, back-lit by the sun. And, to add to the perfection, he was suddenly aware of a beautiful aroma; a sweet fragrance filling the air; filling his lungs; filling his very being.
She was coming towards him.
‘Isn’t it divine?’ she was asking.
He must have stayed quiet just too long.
She giggled, touched his arm. ‘It’s honeysuckle. There, see?’ He felt her turning him, her finger gently under his chin, directing his gaze at a plant growing up a tree.
He breathed long and hard, savouring the aroma; the moment.
Exhaling, he steadied his resolve; prepared to tell Jess how he felt –
Already, though, she was walking away from him.
No matter; he’d follow. He must. Now or never…
Suddenly, everything went black.
The feeling of colliding with something –
Or someone.
Falling to the ground…
‘For goodness’ sake, Turner!’ An angry voice right next to his ear. ‘What’s wrong with you, boy? Watch where you’re going!’
His headset being snatched away from his face now; the attached nasal plugs ripped from his nose – the sight of Mr Harkness, there on the floor with him; limbs variously entwined with his own.
‘I’m sorry, Sir. It’s the VR. Unit must’ve packed in. Couldn’t see. Threw me for a minute, there…’’
‘Don’t give me that! Two weeks’ detention. You hear, lad?’
‘It does seem there’s been a console error.’ This from the resident technician. ‘The boy’s right.’
‘Oh, is he? Well, that’s quite enough from you! One simple job… that’s all you’ve got to do. Load the virtual reality program; pipe it through to the kids. But you can’t even do that, can you?’
‘Alright! Mr Harkness; you’ve made your point.’ Mrs Millington stepping in; seeking to restore order.
Still on the floor, Caleb watched as Mr Harkness tore off his own headset. Getting to his feet, the man strode away angrily; slamming the classroom door behind him.
‘Okay, then, everyone; that’s it for today’s History lesson. You can download the test any time in the next twenty-four hours. Please submit your answers by the end of the week. And remember to place your Neural-Sets back in your lockers. Class dismissed.’
A moment later, Mrs Millington had also exited the room; the technician following closely behind.
‘Here.’
Jess was standing above Caleb, one arm outstretched towards him, waiting to help him to his feet. He could see she’d pushed her headset back. He took the proffered arm; the Velcro and sensor-wires of their neural-gloves briefly sticking together.
Her eyes intense, he had to look away; only too aware he was blushing under her gaze.
Glancing outside, through the hermetically-sealed windows, he could see the inhospitable desert stretching to the horizon – the once-green landscape of planet Earth now but a chapter in the historical record; today’s virtual tour but an approximation of how their world used to be.
Where once there had been beauty, now there was only –
Wait, was that… honeysuckle?
He felt the gentlest of kisses on his lips…

STARTLINGS by Georgia Brooker

Startled from sleep, I woke
in some entreacled act
of running the tracks that rabbits make,
and foxes follow. Pathwork;

A desire line from a dream which broke
with a snap like a branch, thoughtless,
while the forest of deep mind
pined deadening needles over the prints.

Not a fallen nest, not a shard of shell,
not a rock in my pocket
from that flint-toothed hinterland,
but my fist clenched hard on invisible tinder.

In previous chapters, Georgia Brooker has been a teacher, librarian, bookseller, editor, bibliophile, and occasional author of poems and stories. Nowadays, she is mostly mum of two and veg-gardener in-chief, and writes when no one is looking.

The Crow Garden, painting by Karen Strang

Karen Strang graduated in drawing and painting at Glasgow School of Art and did her postgraduate year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She has worked and exhibited as a visual artist in many interesting places. She currently works from her studio in Alloa.  Her website is http://karenstrang.co.uk/

INSIDE THE KIST OF CAITHNESS by Mandy Beattie

I AM
The Land o’ the Cat’
scaling Scaraben’s clavicle
under stone-wash blue and slate-grey sky
ice came in Winter
mute swan over hummocks and water hollows
a plaid ribbon hand-fasting
the Greylag Geese of Camster Cairns
their drystane dyke lichen a vine and ivy
on Standing Stones at Achavanich
and yellow blobs of Marsh Marigold
pirns’ of thread in ground-ganseys
of Bog Sedge and String Sedge
among Kelpie’s in lochans
and The Wee Folk on Fairies Hill
playing Cat’s Cradle under a sea-glass sky
of the Pentland Firth
I AM
the mizzenmast in smoor-mist
on the Whale Road
and whirling-dervish-winds
on Drove Roads and Clearance
Crofts stone aikles in salty-tears
in the shebang of sphagnum in the Flow Country
but the Selkie of St Trothan sees not
Black Crowberries and Black Bog-rushes
only Sundew and Dragon Fly under the North Star
in The Land o’ the Cat’
‘Where I AM, You Are’
duck-egg blue ceiling on daffodils
and yellow on the Broom
Aurora Borealis over stone rows
each pleat and plaid of purple heather is I
even after Muirburn
returning to the Heavenly Dancers
my ashes will fly with Golden Eagle and Green Shank
birthing into the next cleat of peat
the pearl inside a seed pod

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

THE END OF THE DAY by Nikita Shackleton

Mast bells peel strange lands as humans float
confetti in dark pools. Through the crimson door
beyond the promised mountain, the sun stills
my enemy, my friend. The oak tree marches
shadows across blue fields. Birds sing
grey lullabies to the dispossessed
and marsh marigolds play torch songs.
Stone eagles wait for night, fly, swoop high
in peach schnapps skies. My breath, in out, in
out, my chest shrivels. Skin stings, cold bees
devouring ears, eyes don’t see, fingers don’t.
My pen is not mightier, the world ink fades.
I become a gust of wind turning pages.

Dusk by Nikita Shackleton

FORBIDDEN By Melanie Fearon

When no one is looking
she wraps a very soft blanket
around her on the sofa
remembers the caring of her father
and falls asleep

When no one is looking
she books a massage
and pays more than she can really afford,
rebels against her frugal upbringing
and relaxes in the sensuous oils

When no one is looking
she stands in front of the mirror
talks bitingly and meaningfully
to people who have hurt her
and takes comfort from this sight

When no one is looking
she lies widespread in the long grass
gazes at the sweeping birds
going their own way
and says I hope to do that soon

Melanie Fearon has 3 grown-up children and 6 grandchildren. She worked as a teacher of young children, some with special needs, and did parent-line. She started writing in a class in Newcastle 15 years ago. 

GOLDILOCKS by Kevin Crowe

I haven’t really lived. I’ve spent my whole life confined between these walls and I will die here.

At least my children have the life I never had, and my grandchildren are even better off. My parents’ hopes for me were to be dashed, as were those of their parents for them. But the future looks bright now. We will survive. I won’t, but future generations will. What more can a parent ask?

I’m the last of my generation, holed up in this shell, hiding from the outside. Scared of the bears, afraid even of thinking of them, I keep the curtains drawn against the world.

Although the ship was large, it still felt cramped. Most of the space was taken up with livestock, genetically modified plants and masses of equipment and raw materials: things we would need when we found a suitable planet, as well as everything to keep us alive during the search. So living space was at a premium. I’ve never known anything else.

When we arrived here over half a century ago, my children were young, too young to be damaged by the confines of the ship they were born in. As soon as we landed, they ran out, expending all that built-up energy, screaming with joy, rolling in the grass, jumping in puddles. “Be careful!” I shouted, “you don’t know what’s out there, you don’t know how dangerous it may be.” They ignored me.

The elders called the planet “Goldilocks”. The captain announced this to us all: “Welcome to Goldilocks. According to the computer, it’s neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. And the atmosphere is neither too heavy nor too thin, but just right.”

“Aye,” I said, “but didn’t Goldilocks disturb some bears?”

“The computer reckons it’s safe, and that’s good enough for me.” He turned away to supervise the evacuation of the ship and the erection of the tents – our temporary accommodation.

Most of the settlers were allocated tasks and in the first year built a town with houses, meeting halls, social clubs, schools, parks, sports facilities, even churches for the few remaining believers. The town formed a circle with the ship at the centre, a monument to those who had not lived to see this moment.

Farmers cultivated the more fertile land, growing fruit and vegetables. At first much of the livestock, all of which had been bred within the confines of the ship, were nervous when released, but gradually began to enjoy the open sky and the limited freedom they had to roam within their generously large pens. The dogs we arrived with turned out to be useless as workers, but we trained the first generation born on Goldilocks and within a few years they were making the work of shepherds much easier.

The ship’s computer directed us to areas where we could mine the natural resources we needed to ensure our survival, to help us generate heat and light and to produce the metals we needed. The community built factories to manufacture all that was necessary for our survival and comfort and banks so money could be produced to facilitate exchange. They also built roads and constructed wheeled vehicles to travel on them. As the community grew, so people moved further from the landing site. The ship’s engineers and technicians trained apprentices and together created state of the art communication systems.

Of course, all this took time: Goldilocks wasn’t built in a day.

I saw little of this: I stayed on the ship, like some of the others who’d been born and reached adulthood within its confines. Over a century ago my grandparents had been among those who had left the planet they and earlier generations had ruined. My parents had been born on the ship and like my grandparents died there. Its metallic utilitarian walls are my comfort blanket, the only place I feel safe. It’s all I’ve got to call home.

The world outside is new and scary. I don’t want to disturb the bears.

At first there were quite a few of us, but over time most of the others were persuaded by their children to move to the town. Some of them returned to tell me how beautiful and fertile the land was, how good it was to look at the colours on the ground and in the sky, to swim in fresh water, to walk for as long they wished. They said much of the land had still to be explored and it would be a task of several generations to do so. They hoped their excitement would be infectious, but I was immune.

I asked how many bears there were. They looked puzzled. “Bears?” they said, “Bears? There’s no bears here.”

“How do you know?” I asked. “Perhaps they’re hiding, just waiting to pounce. Perhaps they haven’t
found us yet.”

They shrugged their shoulders and, tired of trying to persuade me, left me in peace.

My children and grandchildren did get me to leave once. I said I would go with them providing they agreed to protect me and as long as I could return to the ship whenever I wanted. My two sons held my hands and I was led into the city. It was scary. The sky was so big and blue, the white clouds took on frightening shapes. The buildings couldn’t hide all that space – open land which bears could run across, all those trees where bears could hide. My heartbeat increased so much I thought my chest was going to burst. I could hardly breathe. I began to panic. I screamed.

I closed my eyes. That was worse. My imagination took over. I was terrified. I felt myself falling.

When I woke, I was back on the ship. People were looking at me with concern written on their faces, loving hands were smoothing my hair and stroking my arms. A doctor holding a hypodermic needle said: “I’m just going to give you a little injection to help you calm down.” I felt a sharp jab.

Next time I woke, my eldest son asked me if I wanted a drink. I nodded and he returned a few minutes later with the most welcome cup of tea I have ever tasted.

That was the first and last time I went outside.

The small number of us who stayed on the ship passed the time with indoor sports, with games, with reading, listening to or playing music, watching entertainments on the various screens. We also worked. We took on tasks that didn’t need us to leave the ship: admin, keeping the accounts, computer maintenance and the like. We weren’t a burden on the rest of the community.

As we aged we died. Now I am the only one left on the ship.

At first my children and grandchildren were patient with me. They would arrange for marriages, christenings, anniversary and birthday parties, even Christmas dinners, to be held on the ship, so I could be a part of the celebrations. But as my grandchildren married and had children of their own, fewer events were celebrated with me and the gaps between visits became longer until they stopped.

I am close to death. It will be a relief for me and, I suspect, for others. When the time comes I know my body will be taken from here, but I hope my soul – if I have one – will remain.

I was right about the bears: I can hear them rattling the door. Through a curtain I can see a silhouette of one and I think they will soon find a way in here. My carers shake their heads, assure me it is just my imagination, there are no bears on Goldilocks. I tell them they are wrong. I shout at them until they give me pills that make the bears go away. But I know they are still there. It is only a matter of time before they break in. I hope I die before then.

Kevin Crowe is the author of the short story collection “No Home In This World” (2020, Fly-on-the-wall Press), is editor of the Highland LGBT+ magazine “UnDividingLines” (https://undividinglines.wordpress.com/) and has read at the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, John O’Groats Book Festival and Highland Pride.

Butte, Montana, June 2015. Photograph by Geoff Weston

For more information about Butte click here:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butte,_Montana

OZYMANDIAS REBORN by Sharon Gunason Pottinger

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

They should have known better. The lessons were there. Black Death, plague. In modern history, too—polio, Hanta virus, flu—Spanish, Avian, and otherwise. And SARS and MERS. They should have known one simple truth: never underestimate a virus.
I called her La Corona. The name came from the shape of the virus, which we got to see a lot of on the media as if a close up from an electron microscope said, ‘We’ve got you now named and shamed and we are in control.’ The name also came to me from La Llorona, the weeping woman, from Spanish folk tales. A ghost story and a parable. All of the many versions are about grief. In some it’s personal betrayal; in others it’s pollution or greed. But La Llorono grieves for something that cannot be put back together again.
I don’t know when they started watching us. They had a lot of places to keep track of. Even with all their resources, they couldn’t know everything. Like why I wanted a silver bell as part of the warning system. ‘You know, I said, like they had for lepers.’ Well, I could tell from the empty space in my head that they didn’t know about that, but soon they were back in my head and just said yes—well, they didn’t say it exactly. That’s not how it worked in our communications. I heard it, but they didn’t say it. I tried explaining that in the first hospital. They thought maybe it was a mild Covid infection and the fever made me delirious. When I tried to explain more, they sent me to the second hospital. No one takes my temperature here. It was a day or two before they gave me back my knitting needles, but then they left me alone. I liked being alone then because I thought there would be people there when I wanted to talk to them.
I don’t know how they picked me—the ones in my head—not the folk who sent me to the mental hospital. The voices tried reassuring me with soft music in my head, but it was not much consolation. As La Corona took more people, the inmates were in charge of the institution. Some people were kind and resourceful; some were sly and secretive from fear or malignancy. You couldn’t be sure which. Me? Somewhere in the middle. I refrained from saying we were being watched and tested on how we behaved. No one would have believed me, and the frightened ones—well, it wouldn’t have helped, would it?
We were lucky. We had our farm and a big garden thanks to the folks who thought work was good therapy and the ones who thought it made it cheaper to run our hospital. And we had a library. Our little piece of land behind the high stone walls became a haven, a sanctuary. We stopped hearing about the outside world, which was probably good. The voices in my head kept up reassuring sounds, but I could tell they were getting worried, too. Something was not going according to plan—whatever that was. By the time they showed themselves there was no one left to whom I could say, Look, I told you so. They said they had a job for me. I asked why they’d picked me. They shrugged—I think it was a shrug—their shape wasn’t quite right. They heard me think that and apologised and then tried retuning themselves like a display getting refocussed. It was better, so I could think that in their direction and they smiled. They explained that it was more like I picked them. Very few people—at least on earth, that is—could hear them. I was more chuffed than weirded out, but I was curious about where they came from and what other places were there? They said they could show me better than tell me if I would accept that. When I said OK, I saw stars and moons and flying through I don’t know what like one of those nineteenth century models of the universe called an orrery but bigger and faster. I screamed and put my hands over my eyes and my ears as best I could. I lay there sick and dizzy and sad now because the aloneness of it all was beginning to sink in. I heard what must have been an argument, and a voice I didn’t know made music in my head that made me sleep.
When I woke, they showed themselves faintly—so as not to hurt my eyes they said. I recognised contrite. Making me ill was not part of their plan. I was beginning to wonder what I was to them and they must have heard that. They shimmered a bit but said nothing and then the mother voice—I don’t know what else to call it—came into my head. Soft, reassuring. She chose her words and the speed at which she gave them to me carefully, making me drowsy and sad but content.
‘The virus’, Mother Voice said, ‘the one you call La Corona, was more dangerous than they had realised. We are not from here.’
‘Where exactly do you mean by here’ I asked.
‘Terra. Earth. Your scientists were right. The universe is bigger and more populated than they had thought. The ones who wanted your planet released La Corona. They were afraid you’d ruin Earth altogether before they could colonize it, or you’d try terraforming other planets or moons. Greed is not unique to your species although I believe I can say without offending you that your species does excel in that regard.’
I started to cry and she somehow whisked away the tears with–what can I call it? A cosmic hankie? I thought about Lord of the Rings and the elven queen or maybe that was what she put in my head so I’d sleep. I was beginning to lose track of what I was thinking on my own and what I was being given.
When I woke again, the shimmer twins were there and offered me something to eat. Mother Voice must have let them out of the naughty corner because they said they were going to take me to see the outside. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. They looked at each other and maybe Mother spoke to them. ‘It is necessary,’ they said, resolute but sad. I didn’t like the sound of it.
They heuked me up, one on either side, and we floated along. It reminded me of those paintings with the angels carrying someone up to heaven. I said, ‘Put me down. If people see me all float-y, they’ll get freaked.’ They ignored me, which made me worry. They’d never done that before.
Once outside the iron gates, I understood. There was no one to see me. Not just late night-early morning before the city wakes up quiet or after the thunderstorm relative quiet while the earth dries out, there was no one. No one in the streets or in cars or in the windows of the houses. No shopkeeper sweeping in front of his store, no one even sleeping rough on the pavement. I had been so busy looking at the silence that the shimmer voice startled me. ‘The ones on the streets were the first to go.’
‘And the others?’ I asked sounding as desperate as I felt. Their silence was too much for me. I broke down sighing and wailing. They whisked me back to what had been my haven, and Mother Voice put me to sleep again.
‘It is necessary,’ I heard them saying among themselves. I don’t know if I was supposed to hear it. Fragments of the shimmer twins and other voices I had not heard before. ‘A warning to others.’ ‘The entire planet?’ ‘We did what we could.’ And then they must have become aware of me. I thought of an image of the ghost of Christmas future from A Christmas Carol, thinking they meant a warning to me. That it was not too late for us to mend our ways. They ignored me, so I said it in words to make sure they had understood. I heard a chorus of sadness and then Mother Voice spoke—even she sounded sad, which really worried me. ‘That was our hope when we came here, but your La Corona was too strong for us.’
‘Everyone except me?’ I said but I already knew.
Mother Voice must have felt the loneliness I didn’t have words for. She came into my head brisk and cheery like a ward sister. ‘We have made arrangements for you to come with us as far as your physical frame can manage.’
‘Abducted by aliens?’
‘Not like that. We enjoyed those stories. We learned a lot from them.’ I heard the shimmer twins tiptoe into my brain to have a look over my mind-shoulder at the headlines in The Sun about alien abductions. I didn’t mind, but Mother Voice sent them out in a hurry.
I didn’t fancy the idea of space, but Mother Voice pointed out that I could die of starvation, of loneliness, or even La Corona. ‘Because she’s still here, we’d like you to accept the positon of sentry.’
‘Sentry?’
‘We don’t know how long the planet will be infected.’
‘The entire planet?’
‘The race that designed it,’ she began, and I felt a wave of anger which she quickly controlled, ‘are thorough. In time they will come to colonise your planet.’
She anticipated my thoughts and said, ‘Too long for you and you would not like them.’
I felt her actively blocking the image in her head and decided that after some of the things I’d seen earlier that I was grateful. ‘So how can I be this sentry?’
‘You are familiar with satellites? We can make a satellite for all your needs. No,’ she said, ‘you won’t be lonely. You can hear us so someone will always be with you.’
She sounded like my mum when she was trying to persuade me that summer camp or something that had to be done was going to be fun. I accepted the inevitability without any enthusiasm. So that’s how I came to be here on Ozymandias—I got to name it myself. I heard them looking up the old poem. I orbit poor, beleaguered earth. The shimmer twins were full of excitement telling me the things they saw out their windows on their way back home. I heard their surprise when they discovered that the virus was not limited to terra. They each said goodbye to me.

Sharon Gunason Pottinger moved to Caithness in 2005. Her writing reflects her attachment to her new home. Published work includes ‘Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair’, poetry in New Writing Scotland, Northwords Now and in anthologies by Caithness Writers. http://tinyurl.com/sharonspage

AGEING DRAGON by Moira McPartlin

Don’t be fooled by the smooth face,
shiny blond locks and dazzling smile.
Let’s call that the Colgate effect.
Under this conceit lurks a dragon,
fierce, angry and in pain.

Let’s start at the back,
the deep, depressed spine, where
it curls at the tailbone,
seized mid swish, hinged tight
above the fist of the buttocks.

Go below her sagging belly
just shy of the zip line, to catch
sight of polka dot warts,
like extra teats puckered
and starved of illusion.

Don’t go too close
or her short limbs will swipe you
for gaping at penny-size scales,
scratched flaking flesh, blood spots
dried on untamed blisters.

Watch her pace on hideous feet.
Clawed toenails chipped and yellowed
by a history of chasing
back time. Cut to the truth of
what must be faced.

Frayed heels crackle the punishing carpet-walk
as she shuffles in perpetual motion,
reciting Beowulf
while unfurling the crooked spine.
Slaying her own monsters.

Moira McPartlin’s work has appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies. She has five published novels: The Incomers; Before Now; and the future fiction Sun Song Trilogy. Moira is also the recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship. She lives in Stirling.  

Website – www.moiramcpartlin.com

Twitter – @moiramcpartlin

THE DANCE by Magenta Kent

The lawn
no longer green
the grass is a pond
round and round
round and round
float three seagulls
dancing as people do
out on the dance floor
round and round
round and round
dance the seagulls
in time to the sound
of beating wings
of a beautiful swan
as it glides
joining in the dance
round and round
round and round
snapping off each little feathered head
while the gulls’ bodies
continue to dance
swirling in time and rhythm
round and round
round and round
on a lawn
that is a pond

Illustration by Magenta Kent

THE PERMANENT ROOM by Tom Murray

The librarian stared across the desk at him. ‘I have to ask sir. Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ said John.
‘If you could please speak the words of finality sir?’
Walking through the rainy streets, and up the forty-nine steps to the library entrance, pushing open the heavy oak doors, John hadn’t paused or hesitated once. He had woken up that morning finally sure.
He didn’t hesitate now. ‘My name is John Grant and I walk freely to the Permanent Room.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ said the librarian. ‘You have chosen a book?’
John nodded and said. ‘Art history.’
The librarian looked pleased. ‘This way sir.’
John chose his book from the shelves, Paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, then followed the librarian towards the Permanent Room.
The main concourse of the library was quiet, but John knew the various rooms would be full no matter what time of day. As they passed the History Room the door opened and a man, approximately the same age as John, emerged. They knew each other but neither could remember where from or the other’s name. It did not matter. They had books in common.
John stopped, to the annoyance of the librarian. ‘I’ve been there,’ said John, nodding towards the book, The Wars of Napoleon gripped in the man’s hand. The man’s hand shook slightly, his face flushed, eyes struggling to focus on John as if a million and one images were vying for attention.
‘It’s my favourite,’ said the man. ‘Waterloo, what a mess though. I don’t know why I keep going back.’
John knew why for he remembered the man now. He worked in the bank and had advised John about different types of mortgages.
‘I was at the Peninsular War in Spain,’ John said, as the librarian coughed impatiently behind him. ‘Saw Napoleon himself. Or they said it was him. He was away off in the distance.’
The man stepped closer and whispered. ‘He nearly ran me over with his horse.’ His face flushed even more, and he was smiling.
It had been a mistake going to the Peninsular War John had discovered. The life of an infantry man was no joke. John had cut his visit short, far too much blood and guts for his liking. He needed somewhere to be truly happy and not numb the daily pain by witnessing others even sadder than him. He didn’t like what he had become, secretly smiling at others’ misfortune.
‘What room are you in today?’ asked the man.
The librarian coughed another impatient cough and John indicated towards the Permanent Room, and John said. ‘Must get going.’
The man nodded. ‘I’ve never found a place for me. Not yet. I’m happy for you.’
The sincere tone took John by surprise. He nodded towards the book. The man shook his head. ‘Okay to visit.’ The man attempted a smile. ‘Better get back to the grind I suppose.’ He then turned and walked slowly to replace his book on its shelf and headed even slower towards the library exit.
‘Sir?’ said the librarian.
‘Sorry,’ said John.
‘It’s just that I’m on a break soon,’ said the librarian.
Once through the door there were ninety-nine winding, breath-bursting steps up, up to the Permanent Room itself. The librarian slowly made his way up the steps, every now and then glancing back at John. This was deliberate as was the winding steps. A final test and chance to change your mind.
John didn’t.
The Permanent Room itself was circular with a glass dome that looked towards the heavens. Far above the streak of an already gone aeroplane. A raised leather couch sat alone in the middle of the room.
‘The book sir.’
John handed the librarian the book.
‘If you will sir,’ said the librarian indicating the couch.
John climbed onto the couch and lay back staring up through the glass dome. Clouds you imagine had emptied themselves of all the rain in the world, draining the dregs to drop rhythmically onto the glass dome.
The Librarian glanced at the page in the book John had chosen. ‘You do realise that this will only work if the character remains anonymous?’ John nodded. ‘This not being an unnamed character in fiction, research might uncover the identity of this person in the future. You know what they are like, these scholars. Especially with Mr Van Gogh. If that were to be the case…’
‘I understand,’ said John. ‘I will disappear.’
The Librarian sighed. ‘It’s just…This room used to be so dusty with lack of use. Now…
‘I am sure,’ said John.
The Librarian nodded. ‘I commend you on your chosen page. If ever there was a page to live permanently in, you have chosen well.’
John smiled. ‘Have you ever thought about…?’
The librarian said. ‘Close your eyes please sir.’
John did and the librarian began to read from the page.
‘One anonymous source that has come down to us, from a fragment of a letter of the time, is how this person would witness Vincent walking into the night, easel under his arm. It was a quick urgent walk as if, to quote the letter, “the stars above would scatter if he did not capture them immediately.”’
The Librarian’s voice began to fade, and John opened his eyes and there in front of him was the Yellow House and Vincent Van Gogh emerging into the night with his easel under his arm. Vincent hurried straight past John as if not noticing he was there. John followed close behind and the rest of the page ran though his mind in his own voice.
‘Vincent worked quickly, every now and then staring for a time up at the glorious stars. I must admit I sneaked as close as I could to witness what he had painted. ‘If you want to see properly.’ Vincent said, ‘stop skulking about.’ I hesitated but he urged me forward and I stood at his shoulder, and the canvas was a glorious mirror to the glory of the stars. I admit I had never properly looked at the stars until that moment. ‘Well?’ Vincent snapped. Before I could answer he said. ‘It is…Not what was in my mind.’ He went to rip the canvas in half. ‘Please Vincent, don’t.’ He looked at me. ‘You know my name?’ ‘Yes.’ I said. He looked at the canvas. ‘I will keep it. Now if you don’t mind sir,’ said Vincent and turned back to his work. ‘Can I watch, Mr Van Gogh?’ He thought for a moment. ‘Not at my shoulder, and not a sound.’
John sat on the small hill overlooking where Vincent worked. It was damp as if the rain had recently stopped. He took out the paper and pen from his jacket and wrote the words that would make it into a book one hundred years later. John didn’t care about that though. He had finally found his own page, and where he was meant to be, staring up at the starry sky with wonder as if he were newly born.

Tom Murray is a full time writer living in Dumfries. His plays have been widely performed. His stories and poems published in magazines and anthologies in Scotland, and further afield. His website: https://tmurraytg.wordpress.com His Blog: https://tommurrayborders.blogspot.com

ASLEEP-AWAKE by Mandy Beattie

My eyelashes flutter and flatline crescent moons on crests of cheeks
behind iris-lids is sky inside a pearl-mussel a swirling ocean
swell pitching me deeper, deeper, deeper until I am skinless-skein
and silver umbilicus-ectoplasm from The Cup Bearer I track Ptolemy
to waltz past stones of sleep to swoop and soar I am a Sky-Traveller
in a Starship The Plough’s my jib and I fly elbow to elbow with fluttering wings
I trail mountain folds, isobars, snow caps and seeds, air-swim
over oceans and niblets of sand I am a wind-horse
weaving among clusters of gypsophila with star-petals in my hair
I shadow the Big Dipper to the North Star as I cartwheel around
The Northern Cross a giant harp strums my skinless-skein
and silver umbilicus-ectoplasm and I forward roll to Andromeda to foxtrot
with El Morya and Merlin on a magic carpet through the maw
of the Milky Way until fingers of light edge around bare bones and Saturn’s
curtain rings and Orion’s Belt is the launch pad through the veil
of thin-air when the long and short hand siphons me back into bones
my heart the drum beat of a Shaman and alchemy
as my bones uncurl and unfurl from its question mark – When
will it be, ‘As Above, So Below?

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

Untitled image by Rukhsana C

Rukhsana C relies on Imagination and Photoshop skills to create visual stories.
Please follow her work at:
https://twitter.com/c_rukhsana
https://rukhsanac.picfair.com/
RukhsanaC@Pexels

Please keep scrolling to see more wonderful writing and artwork…the best is yet to come!

ESCAPE by Isabel Garford

It was the day I caught the wrong train,
travelled through a country I didn’t recognise
to a town whose name I didn’t know.

I walked down the empty platform
past the booking hall where years of dust
had pitted the closed shutters
to a uniform grey.

In the town square I lingered
beneath a plane tree whose branches
had been pruned into stumps
like the shoulders of the girl
taken in handcuffs from the train.

Isabel Garford spent many working years hating being a solicitor. She now divides her time between chatting to friends on the phone and sometimes writing about things that intrigue and amuse her. 

Decapitated by Mass Index

TURN IT UP by Toby Goodwin

My bass is in its case between my knees, and every time the car turns it squashes my leg further into the door. My tinnitus is blending in with the sound of the bypass. Screaming, whistling. Used to stress me out, but life’s about how you look at it, ae? I’ve chosen to find the sound interesting. In fact, I’ve found that I can fluctuate the sound by clenching and unclenching my jaw. I lie in bed at night making haunting, high-pitched, celestial music. The sound of dying ear cells, cochlea, as my doctor had called them, prompting a little giggle from fifteen-year-old me. I’m twenty-two now, so I’ve had time to acclimatise. Plus, when an ailment’s your own fault, you tend to forgive it more easily.
“Will we put the radio on?” Jim says.
“Why not,” I say.
Jim’s driving. Long, floppy black hair and he has a certain wiry elegance to him. A certain fluidity to his movements. The practice space is on a commercial estate just off the town centre between a Hyundai and a Mini garage. “You sort it then, Shaun,” he says.
Shaun’s in the front passenger seat wearing khaki shorts and a Steely Dan t-shirt. I’m in the back. He leans forward and puts a finger to the dial, “Gimmie some tunes, you salty cow.” He says. Shaun’s the middle child of the band, the drummer. He’s got short blonde hair and a bit of a goatee. He turns the radio to Heart, “Shite.” EDM. “Next!” Classic FM, a nice Handel concerto; the opening of Op 6. He turns to me, grinning, and starts conducting with his fingers.
“How pleasant,” I say. I’m in the back, still hugging the bass.
“How pleasant indeed,” Shaun says.
“Naw.” Jim flips a paddle by the steering wheel and bares left. “Put some fuckin bangers on.”
Shaun pulls a face and turns the dial again. Top 100, “Naw,” Smooth Chill. “How’s about that?” The radio box lights up with those magical words; Smooth, Chill. It’s nice: lo-fi hip-hop. The kind of thing Uni students listen to in the library after popping their second Ritalin of the evening. “Does what it says on the tin.”
“Smooth Chill,” Jim says, tasting the words. Feeling the smoothness.
Jim had picked me up from the station about ten minutes before. We all live in the greater Stirling area. Dunblane for me and Shaun; Stirling for Billy and Jim. Jim’s the youngest of us all, an outstanding guitarist. His driving isnae bad either. You can feel the G’s on some corners, but it’s mostly stable.
“How d’ya think they came up with smooth chill,” I say. I’m the oldest, big bushy beard and a bit of a belly. Billy, the frontman, likes to say I bring the band some ‘much-needed sex appeal,’ the little bastard. He’s meeting us there. “Was there a board meeting or was it some kind of competition? Maybe an outsourced project management unit?”
“What? Do you mean; Smooth Chill: the name, or the concept of smoothly chilling?” Shaun says.
“The name.”
“It’ll have been done like one of those league tables. A whole slew of two-word titles and a cheer-omiter with the station crew.”
“And the winner came round to be smooth fucking chill, after quite the raucous evening of cheering.”
“What a name,” I say.
“What an institution, smooth chill. It just rolls smoothly out of your mouth.”
“Chill isnae good enough. I want to be smooth whilst I chill.”
I look down at my phone, nestled behind the neck of the bass. I pull out Reddit and start to scroll: a bear and a dog who are pals, some witty responses to an unsolicited penis photograph, a man winning some kind of knife competition, and then fire. A flaming truck, burning bales of hay, a panicked driver. It streams past the camera operator, who hasn’t thought to turn their phone to the landscape position. A great glowing trail follows the truck. I open the comments, top one says, “Apparently the driver noticed the fire but was driving past a school and then a petrol station, so he wanted to stay clear. Explains the manic driving.” I pause the video, letting the trail of fire hang in the silicon air.
“Do we need masks by the way?” I say, looking up.
“Yeah probably,” Jim says.
He exits a roundabout and eases into a car park. It’s evening, early summer, so the sun is bright and low in the sky. I rummage around in my pocket. There’s a fresh medical mask in there somewhere, but it’s been crushed into my keys. Jim rounds the back of the building and parks up. On our left is a group of metalheads smoking cigarettes. We give them a masculine nod, grab our gear out of the boot, mask up, and go straight in. The lobby’s a little room with a desk and a couch. Andy’s sitting there in a mask, his big glasses steamed, “Room 1, boys” he says, pointing to a corridor. “Payment came through fine.” I hike my bass higher on my shoulder and smile at him. It’s hard to smile with a mask on, but you can still see it in the shape of folk’s eyes. There’s something else too. Maybe a certain pheromone is released. An unacknowledgeable smile smell. You can feel a smile the same way you can feel a sound.
“You’ve wasted my fucking life, Jemma.”
It’s been about a year since we last played together and I’m nervous. When you’ve not played together for a long time, you don’t know if the gel’s gonnae be there. I worry they won’t accept me. That’s the way with music. I’ve proved myself a million times, but the feeling doesn’t go away. You can do it or you cannae, proofs in the playing.
I pull out my bass and lean it against an amp. Billy’s already in there waiting for us, wearing tartan skinny jeans and a red denim jacket, blonde hair. The room’s ten metres square with an old PA, three guitar amps, a bass amp, and a drum kit minus breakables (‘breakables’ means snare, cymbals, and the odd cowbell if you swing that way). I pull out my bundle of cables and my pedals and plug in. I’ve got a tube screamer and a tuner. I like boosting the highs a touch with the screamer. Gives the bass a nice, dirty sound.
I never practice loud in the house, so it’s a novelty. Maw needs silence, especially after she’s gone to sleep. It’s only me and her in the house just now anyways. I’ve got one of those families where you can never get more than two of them in a room at a time. Dissonance.
I tune up and feel out a riff. Shaun already has his cymbals hanging. He starts testing, a double stop on the kick and a roll on the snare. He gives a thumb. On the other end of the room, Jim and Billy have their guitars plugged. Billy’s got some distortion and spring reverb and Jim’s got about eight pedals, it’s aebody’s guess what they all do, but after a few seconds, he’s good.
“Let’s do The Socialites,” Billy says. The song’s one of my favourites, but it’s hard, about three minutes of continuous, hammered triplets, but I start to sway as Shaun counts us in. Our levels are slightly out. The bass is too quiet, but we’re in. Time is ours. The opening riff turns into a pattern with Jim’s lead and Billy barks out the first verse. Reality bends around me as a ribbon. A wide length that ripples and shudders with every thump. The air shivers. I’m in the other world. Guitar-land, my teacher used to call it, this old Canadian rocker. “Go to guitar-land and stay there, man. You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.”
My maw lives in the Dunblane east end, dad’s in Glasgow. I get on with everyone in the family. Youngest child, so it’s a bit odd being the oldest band member. I’m not in charge, doesnae work like that. Billy’s the frontman. This is something a lot of folk don’t understand about music. You need a leader, a conductor, someone to hold the reins of the vibrating world and tell it where to go. Too many cooks spoil the broth and aww that.
Billy grins and hammers out the chorus and then it’s on me. I slide down to fifth for the interlude. It’s a repurposed version of a Paul McCartney riff. That’s another thing wi music that most folk don’t understand. It’s like maths, numbers. There’re no new numbers, there’re no new chords. Musicians need to be inspired from all over the place. We take sounds that we like, stitch them together in a way that we like, and then we call it music. Jim starts to solo over the bass riff, first pentatonic and then diatonic. He’s got these new strings, custom ones that the guy from ZZ-Top apparently likes. He can almost bend two full octaves.
Life’s a lot like music, I think. Play it too loud and there’s gonnae be consequences. Your ears won’t ever stop ringing. Like with my parents. They expected too much of Tabby, my older sister. They were too hard on her. Didnae ken what the fuck they were doing, so she tore away early, not seen her in years. I’m fine. I’m stoned all the time. Can’t argue wi me, it’s impossible, so I stay at my maws.
We get to the end of the song and the humming world recedes, “I think we need two triplets on that fill,” Billy says. “Parapum, parapum, peestch.” He makes the hand movements and Shaun looks on from behind the kit with an eyebrow raised. He’s taps aff already.
“Play the riff then,” he does, and Shaun does the triplets.
“Naw, dot the first beat.”
“Well, it willnae be triplets then, will it?”
I start laughing.
“Play, just play,” Billy says. “Let’s loop that phrase and work it out.”
We go over it again and Billy steps over to me. “I cannae quite hear you, Kev. Gonnae turn up.” My ears are whistling even with my earplugs in, wee specialist ones I keep in a screw-top container on my keyring. At least I can stop it from getting any worse. I kneel down next to the bass amp and tweak the lows and mids. I play a riff, “How’s that?”
“Louder.”
I hate silence, partly because of the tinnitus, but I hated it even before that. Silence is unnatural, it’s death, an empty household. Before the divorce, it was full of screams, sounds. “You fat fucking prick, Clark,” shaking through the floor.
I turn up the bass pickups, a pair of single coils, and then I turn up the master, thrumming with a thumb as I do.
“You’re a bitch, actually you know what? You’re a witch, you’ve fucking cursed me, Jemma.”
I’m twelve years old, half-asleep, thinking about how sound travels further through harder surfaces, especially surfaces with a firm molecular convergence like the wood of my little bunk bed. I can feel the sound of my mother, Jemma, crying. Not the high ends, just the lows. Those ugly wa, wa, wa sounds. I slept like that most nights, at least till I was old enough to buy myself some headphones. These days it’s silent, like standing in the eye of a storm.
“Turn it up.”
“I ammm.”
“Lounder, Kev. We gotta hear it over the kick.”
I hear the sound of a plate smashing in the kitchen downstairs, a dog yelps, and I turn up my headphones. It’s so loud it hurts. I can feel it beaming into my mind. Janis Fucking Joplin.
“Turn it up,” Billy says.
“Right, right,” I turn the master to full and then up the gain on my screamer. It’s loud, there’s wind coming out the amp for every note. I can feel it on my legs.
“Which song next?” I say.
“Let’s do that yin again.”
“Righto.”
Shaun taps us in. I hit the first note and there’s a low, thudding sound. A woof. The lights on the front of the amp go out. The wind on my legs is gone.
“I think I’ve fuckin blown it,” I say.

Toby Goodwin is a twenty-five-year-old musician and writer based in Glasgow. He mostly writes contemporary fiction, but also dabbles in crime, memoir and sci-fi. He likes going for short walks on the beach, and he loves cheesecake.
Here’s a link to Toby’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TobyGoodwinWritesStuff/

LOOKING FOR BLIND WILLIE by Ian Tallach

Big bastard sky come down. Angry as hell, though dry. Pylons crackling, anticipating something.
Highway 61, southbound. And there’s a wall of darkness heading this way. All around the world lights up, peculiar. Things aglow, like burned out boxcars, ribcages or twisted branches, jaunty-angled shacks. Menacing things. It’s like some clever irony, a cruel joke… the nightmare, where you think you should be laughing, so you join in, but it’s you they’re laughing at. Times like this you just feel raw. You realize you needed comfort, after all. Damn your pride! Your independence.
I must be crazy not to stop and wait for this to pass, but who’s to say exactly when. So, I just keep on driving. Heading for the storm. Well, I ain’t superstitious, so I’m praying to survive. ‘Spect that’s what they’re praying too – the droves of dispossessed along the roadside. See the worlds behind their eyes. My heart goes out, but I’m so tired. Try not to look.
The sky cracks overhead. Lightning and thunder all mixed up. Bush catches fire, flares up, but then, thank God, the rain. Hard rain. So thick it’s like a wall. Drums on the roof so bad I think it’s gonna cave. But with it comes the dark. Lights on: no diff’rnce. Nothing for it but to pull onto the roadside. Sit it out and wait. I think of those poor bastards in their shacks all battened down with ropes and breezeblocks. Hope they’ll be alright. Some point, I guess, we all stop praying to survive – start praying that you’re ready for the river. Crossing to the other side. Settling accounts. Huh! Life gets you on your knees. It’s what you say when you’re down there that counts. So says the preacher man

Well, I got through the storm as you can see, but modified in such a way as to be grateful for another crust of cornbread. From what I hear no life was lost. Thank God. (No human life, leastwise.) Seems like a miracle.
The highway crossed the Mississippi twenty times during my travels. I was much too long adrift, jus’ searching for this guy. I found him, though. Imagine if I hadn’t. So much time all flushed away forever. But I did find him… in the end. Before he died I heard his song… ‘I Got to Cross that River Jordan.’ Almost killed me. Blind Willie McTell…. I’m telling you, I met him! Guess it was meant to be. Something like that, leastwise. He looked straight at me. Sho’, he blind, I know, but still, those eyes did not once leave my face. His smile came at me like a benediction. And I’m telling you that voice, not far from breaking all his life, was strong as ever. Like a rumour… of a better life… another world. His fingers made that twelve-string speak. He dug down deep, like he was bringing up the notes from someplace buried, but afterwards they wasn’t tethered to the earth no more. They took off like doves. I’m telling you! That’s when it happened, when the lights came on. Everything got changed. It took a blind man to do that for me.

I stuck round till his funeral. The choir sang this number by a friend of his – Johnson – also Willie. Also blind. ‘Jesus Make up my Dying Bed.’ You gotta cry sometimes. And there was this this one line I never heard before – ‘Oh Lord on my dying bed, I’ll be flying’. You can’t take nothing from a man like that.
I got a lot of thinking up ahead. Lots of thinking waiting for me.

For more information about Blind Willie McTell please click here: – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Willie_McTell

To hear Blind Willie McTell click here:- https://youtu.be/fnWxZtI3ONY

Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.

The Lost World by Magenta Kent and Nikita Shackleton

ODIN by Moira Weir

I have visited Orkney for many years as I have family connections there. As a small child I was always fascinated by the standing stones, the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness. The stones stand tall, some as tall as 4.7 metres, they stand majestic looking over the nearby lochs and holding their secrets of who placed them there and why. There have been many explanations of their purpose, Brodgar supposedly the temple of the dead whilst Stenness the temple of the living. The stones are older than the pyramids and many have fallen but their presence is still powerful, dominating the skyline.
Every year when I go to Orkney I always visit the stones and feel at peace in their presence, they are like familiar friends. A few years back archaeologists started digging in a nearby strip of land and uncovered a series of remains of buildings which they excavate every year producing more and more significant finds allowing us to begin to understand the people who inhabited Orkney as far back as 5000bc. The site is called the Ness of Brodgar, and continues to surprise archaeologists with its revelations. It consists of a massive complex of remains of Neolithic buildings, some of which are believed to be temples, uncovering their treasures of pottery, coloured walls and animal bones encased in some of the stone walls. This is believed to have been what was left over after a huge ceremony where lots of cattle were sacrificed. The Ness sits between the two stone circles in a narrow area of land with a standing stone standing proud at the start of the road.
Over the years I have owned and loved several dogs who I take with me to Orkney, and they have all visited the stones and Ness of Brodgar with me, until recently. One of my labradors, Odin, (yes, I know a very norse god) has been coming to Orkney with me for seven years. From a pup he happily got out the car and started to walk with my husband and I towards the Ring of Brodgar, he made it from the car park to the start of the path and stopped dead refusing to take another step. We thought he had spotted a rabbit or bird until he started to howl, we tried coaxing him further and he made it to the stone circle but continued to howl all the way round. We met a young student from Glasgow at the stones who was going to camp there overnight; when he saw the reactions of Odin he changed his mind very quickly.
Every year we tried to encourage Odin and reassure him that he was safe but he still acted distressed and eventually we gave up with Odin staying beside my husband whilst I walked around the stones with my other dog. Three years ago we visited the Ness of Brodgar to learn of new finds as it was open when we were in Orkney. It was a warm day so we took the dogs with us as it was too hot to stay in the car. Odin had never been there before, he lasted two minutes, looking into one of the trenches and the howling started, growing louder and more urgent. It immediately caught everyone’s attention on a very busy day with lots of tourists. One of the archaeologists enquired if he was alright and we told her about his reaction at the stones. We made a hasty retreat as he was causing a lot of fuss and attention.
The following day we were in Stromness walking back to the car park when a man and a woman approached us. I recognised the woman from the dig as the lady who had enquired about Odin. The two people approached us and I could hear the lady stating to her companion “This is the dog I was telling you about yesterday”. The man introduced himself as another archaeologist, they both expressed their excitement and told us they had never experienced a dog’s reaction to the site, they were fascinated by his actions. The male archaeologist said that he wished he could see and feel what Odin did at the stone circles and the Ness of Brodgar dig. He has never reacted this way to any other area we have visited in the whole of Scotland.
I too wonder what it is that Odin sees or senses when he’s there, is it the spirits of long gone civilisations or is it the essence of whatever ceremonies that were carried out by the people at these sites lingering in that other world? The whole area around the two rings of standing stones, Ness of Brodgar and surrounding historical sites was obviously of great importance to the people of Neolithic Orkney and chosen carefully as the site of their most significant buildings and a place for gatherings and sacred ceremonies.

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, photograph by Moira Weir

Moira Weir has been a lecturer for many years and has a great love of words and art. She paints, draws, felts and designs jewellery. She stays in the Central Belt but enjoys visiting Orkney which is her soul place

.

GLOBE by John McMahon

Lying back in bed, suspended from the ceiling is a colourful globe. I look deeply at it and I imagine I’m in some place wonderful.

Anywhere but Dumbarton, soon my snoring turns into the waves licking at the shore like a thirsty dog. I was really in Australia …

The sun cut through my pale white Scottish body like a samurai sword. Soon I’m riding a huge wave. I’m cool now.

I’m back in my bedroom glaring at the globe. I get out of bed and go to my shoes, turn them
upside down and shake them and what looks like sand forms a little pile on the carpet.

John McMahon is 37 years old and lives in Dumbarton with his wife and daughter. He has been writing since he was seventeen.

THE NEW YORK TIMES INTERVIEWS MS OCEAN by Nikita Shackleton

A mermaid delivered the note, handwritten in wavering purple ink.
She chose a secret location on Long Island at midnight.
Strictly no pictures, no questions and I must come alone.
She said she admired my honesty and the scoop on Leonard Cohen.

The tide was out, the mist was in and it looked like a no show
when suddenly she appeared by the rocks, lapping quietly at my feet.
She wore a blue mac. A fedora pooled shadows over her eyes.
Such an honor to meet you, I began. Thanks for letting me tell your story.

This is not about me, well not much, she said.
Her voice rippled and skipped through the dark.
It’s about you guys. My warnings
aren’t getting through, not 

even the tsunami of 04. You morons
have short memories and no understanding
of omens. We don’t know where we went wrong, me
and Neptune. We were good parents. Fuck knows 

we tried our best. Ever since you crawled
onto dry land you’ve lost your way.
What do you mean exactly? 
I asked.
I told you no questions, she replied and a cold wave rose up and slapped me in the face.

We sent clear signs, reminders every day. It’s hard work
maintaining the tides, the rhythm, all that pulling
and pushing to teach you the value of self-discipline, of balance
and how to give and take. We’re sick 

of your abuse and the shit you dump in the water. I could
go on and on but I’m not here to give another
lecture cos the truth is, you’re screwed. No,
I’m here to tell you I’m quitting.  

Neptune hitched a ride to Andromeda
five years ago. He sent a postcard last month
and says he’s doing swell. I stayed behind, hoping
for change but now your time is up. There’ll be no 

more marinara pizza, no more calamari fritters, no
more weekends hanging out at the beach and no
more yachting holidays for the jet set. There’ll be no
more clouds with silver linings and no 

more rain on your dahlias. You will be forever grounded.
I’m off to Orion for my new job as Head of Desert Prevention.
My advice in these dying days is to forget love, it will fail you.
Read Dostoevsky and respect your cat, he is wiser than you know.

And before I could protest, she disappeared,
dancing and leaping into a vortex of spray.

The Sirens by Brian Ord. Digital Print, Oil Paint & Resin, on Canvas, from Collage
Mattaclarksville by Brian Ord, Digital Print , Oil Paint & Resin, on Canvas, from Collage.

Brian Ord has exhibited his sculpture throughout the UK & the World. His latest body of work is Two Dimensional – Digital Print, Oil Paint & Resin, on Canvas, from Collage. These are called’ Impossible Interiors and Exteriors’ . Website:- http://www.ne-arts.co.uk/ http://www.facebook.com/brianordartist

LONDON BLITZ by Melanie Fearon

Doodlebugs dropping
bright splashes in the sky.
The dancers in the ballroom, lifeless
across the river
in Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth.

Sirens wailing,
then the buzz bombs sudden silence.
I lie in bed and think
is this the end of me
instead of Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth?

People crying.
Uncle Jack with red-rimmed eyes.
His wife and sons lie dead
under five floors of tenement flats
in Chelsea, not Putney, Battersea or Wandsworth.

Air raid wardens dig
me, my mother and my rubber doll
from the rubble.
Unharmed, not like some others
in Chelsea, Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth.

I pick some ragwort for a jam jar.
Tommy Handley on the wireless.
Mrs Thorne collects the chamber pots from empty basements
and the groups of women laugh
in Chelsea, Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth.

Melanie Fearon has 3 grown-up children and 6 grandchildren. She worked as a teacher of young children, some with special needs, and did parent-line. She started writing in a class in Newcastle 15 years ago. 

The Rising Sun Country Park by Geoff Weston

AMONGST THE FLUTTERERS by Trudy Gritte

“I’m supposed to be dead”, Amy would say to the visitors wearing plastic smiles as they edged around the door into Room 1, Ward 5. It was gratifying to see them squirm at the mention of the ‘D’ word. In bleak times a girl must get her kicks any way she can. When Amy failed to defeat her illness, stubbornly refusing to rise and sparkle from the sheets like a New Year firework the number of visitors declined until only the troubled and lonely returned. They stopped bringing cheery cards, gifts of scented soap, lip balm and chocolates. Instead some of them drank her afternoon tea, ate her biscuits and ‘borrowed’ the taxi fare home. They all needed a sympathetic ear. There was Linda who was plagued by too many happy memories, Steve who was working out why his wife left him nine years before and Carol who couldn’t decide her next holiday destination. Amy tried to remember that just because she was dying didn’t mean others weren’t entitled to their own misery. It must be a hard choice between the Trans Siberian Express and an Alaskan cruise, after all.

Amy found terminal illness hard work. The doctors, nurses and visitors must be kept happy. It was considered bad form to show pain or fear. One must be positive and grateful at all times. “When you’re smiling…the whole world smiles” and all that shit. It was indeed true that even now there were things for which she was grateful. For a start, she had a room of her own and was no longer trapped with the dementia patients in Room 8. Amy’s new room didn’t have a view unless you stood on a chair and revolved your head like the demonically possessed girl in The Exorcist. Room 1 faced a brick wall with a row of identical windows. The sky could be seen only as a reflection in their glass panes. The best time was when the sun came up and flared in the windows opposite and a solitary seagull perched on her window sill, feathers so white, so exquisitely sculpted that Amy could almost taste the ocean. She imagined the bird swooping low over turquoise waves and then spiralling up into a pure blue sky.

The other thing to be grateful for was the night. Amy loved the night. It was the only time she felt safe. During the day an endless procession of strangers burst into her room without knocking regardless of her situation or state of undress. Dignity was a lost cause. To the army of uniforms she was no longer a woman but a lump of meat to be processed. During the day, she was lost even to herself, her mind focused anywhere but in this body, in this room. She felt she was looking down at herself from a great height, her body meant nothing more than a discarded old coat, too battered even for a charity shop. But at night as the ward gradually fell silent the real Amy returned. Sometimes she would talk to herself out loud, ‘I am Amy Baxter. I was once a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a wife. I am good at baking, knitting, gardening and pub quizzes. I am a loyal friend. My favourite meal is gammon with pineapple and chips. I prefer dogs to cats….’ After the ten thirty drugs trolley had squeaked its way from room to room, the footsteps, voices, slamming doors and buzzing alarms in the corridor lessened. Occasionally Amy heard a patient crying or shouting but it was not like Room 8 where the poor sods with dementia wailed all night and she never slept at all.

It was in Room 8 that Amy first started seeing the visions. When she arrived they put her in the bed near the window. The day was stormy. The ambulance had lurched violently in the gusts of wind on the journey to the hospital. She’d kept hoping they would plunge off the road on one of the hairpin bends so her suffering could be over. No such luck. It was cold in Room 8. The old metal windows were draughty and Amy pulled the blanket up to her chin. She was glad she’d brought her favourite yellow cardigan to keep her warm. She’d knitted it herself, embroidering the cuffs with small blue spots. She closed her eyes and tried to rest. After a while a nurse brought her a cup of tea. When Amy looked up she suddenly saw a jagged white light pulsating around the edge of the window frame, where the aluminium met the wall. She rubbed her eyes and blinked hard but the light was still there.
“What’s that light?” she asked the nurse pointing at the window.
“It’s the sky outside”, said the nurse.
“I know that, I mean what’s that white light streaming around the window?”
Amy looked up at the ceiling where there was a ventilation vent. To her astonishment strange rays of light were filtering through the metal grid. It looked like a scene from Star Trek.
“And up there, look!” she said to the nurse. “Can’t you see it? It’s like the wind coming in. I can see the wind!”
“There’s nothing there pet”, the nurse said. “It’s not Christmas you know. No fairy lights for you.”
Amy heard her go out into the corridor and say “The new one’s seeing fairy lights and she hasn’t even had her morphine yet!” Then laughter.

Amy hoped the lights would go away. She didn’t like seeing things other people couldn’t see. Did it mean she was on the verge of death or insanity? The next morning she could still see the lights but more faintly, wavering like thin silver strands. She tried not to look and never mentioned it to anyone again.

After Amy moved into her single room the weird lights vanished. She squinted at the window and tried hard to see something special but no, it was all completely ordinary. But then one day she was taken downstairs on a trolley for a CT scan. The lift was crammed with people, people of various age, race and build but one thing united them. They were all illuminated. Waves of intense colour pulsed from each human body, as if they all emanated a personal aurora as spectacular as the northern lights. Blues, greens, purples, all the colours of the rainbow. Tears welled in Amy’s eyes, not from her pain but from the beauty of each translucent soul standing shoulder to shoulder in the lift. She felt their hopes, dreams and fragility as concretely as she could see the nicotine stained fingers of the porter as he pressed the button for Level 1. When the lift doors opened the scene changed. People dispersed in different directions and they were back to being dull, normal humans.

When Steve came to visit, clutching a carrier bag full of photos of his ex-wife for Amy to admire, she tried to tell him about the life-affirming experience in the lift. He interrupted her story by saying it must be her drugs and could he have some please? After that, every time he texted to say he was on his way to the hospital she replied she was too tired for visitors. One time he turned up without texting and she pretended to be asleep. He never came again.

Amy’s evenings in Room 1 became more solitary but she didn’t mind. She didn’t watch the small TV which was set so high on the wall that it hurt her neck to look. Instead she would ask the nurse to open the window. It would only open about four inches to prevent suicides but that was enough to let the scent of rain and the sounds of the street into her room. Amy loved the birds who sang at night, their song mingling with the traffic noise, sirens and raucous drunks staggering home from the pub. One night she heard a man shouting“fuck off” over and over again at seagulls who were screaming loud enough to wake the dead. She imagined him out there with his bag of chips and the birds circling around.

Every night as her room darkened Amy would switch on the small spot lamp by her bed. One by one moths drifted through the open window forming an iridescent cloud in the pool of light. She liked to watch their hypnotic dance until she fell asleep. When she woke in the morning she found moths of every hue adorning her pillow like precious jewels. The nurses complained, some of them were afraid of winged creatures and ran shrieking from the room. The ward manager said it was unhygienic and in future the window must be kept closed at night.

On Amy’s last night she begged the kind Polish nurse on duty to open the window.

“Just one more time,” Amy pleaded.

In the morning when the nurse brought breakfast Amy had vanished, her hospital gown cast off on the bed. A kaleidoscope of moths filled the room, shimmering over the walls, the ceiling and every surface. The largest and brightest was yellow marked with tiny blue spots. She was the first to leave, leading the others and fluttering out into the fresh cold air.

Photograph by Nikita Shackleton

PETALS DROPPING by Chrissie Morris Brady

A shaft of light, torch-like, lights the room
this room, off a corridor, in the huge building.
Alone, save the silent nurse who sleeps, I long
to be home, to be kissed, to take in the scent
of Dad’s neck as he carries me.

My body does not respond no matter my effort
lifeless as a flower cut with petals dropping,
my limbs inert, akinetic, mute my voice, this done to me
without my knowing, and yet I sense each touch
every invasive thing. I am destroyed, a mind encased
inside a tomb that is my flesh, bone and blood.

My thoughts drift back to familiar worlds
of being chosen, the boy sweet on me, golden hair
they shaved away, the branch in that tree smoothed
by our jeans, I could not know it would be you
that died in my arms, and my Dad would die there too.

Chrissie Morris Brady resides on the south coast of England with her daughter. She is widely travelled and has lived in five countries. Her third collection of poetry, Caught By The Moon, was published last August. Her writing has appeared in many publications. Chrissie’s website is chrissiemorrisbrady.wordpress.com

I STAND WAITING by Meg Macleod

at the edge of winter
as the sun rises
I hold out my cupped hands
and light like a river in spate
overwhelms all that was in stasis
darkness in my bones begins to break apart

soon stars will become a brief
apology for night
and long before the town awakens
dusk will give birth to a premature dawn
a chattering chorus of birds
will enter the dreaming of the people

Meg was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.

We’ve reached the end of our fantastic journey with a soft landing back to reality. I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring Other Worlds in The Haar. Thanks to all contributors for making this issue spectacular. And thanks to readers for coming on board. Any comments are much appreciated and can be left below. The Haar will return with an inspiring new theme in September.

In the meantime please help this e-zine survive and thrive by making a donation towards the running costs and the development of a bigger, juicier website. The Haar is an entirely voluntary project with no access to external funding. Anything you feel able to contribute will be used wisely to maintain a free platform for creatives to share their work.

Thank you!

Nikita Shackleton

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Prepare for Other Worlds

The second issue of The Haar creative arts e-zine is coming soon on this blog featuring an exclusive interview with screenwriter Martyn Hesford, new work from George Gunn, Tom Murray, Mandy Beattie, Chrissie Morris Brady, Georgia Brooker and many talented others. Also innovative art from Brian Ord, Geoff Weston and Karen Strang….plus a chance to win a poetry book plus much, much more. Watch this space and don’t miss your chance to explore Other Worlds at The Haar.

Image by the author

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Thank you! 

Nikita Shackleton

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The Darkening

Shadows rooted in the sour
grooves that framed
her mouth. Invisible at first,
they bloomed in the living
map of her face, festered
in the lines on her brow,
in the web of crow’s feet
perched on cheekbones
and in every pore
of once perfect skin.
Within the purple moons
beneath shuttered eyes
darkness multiplied
spread along the wrinkles
of her neck, the valley
between breasts, the soft
folds of belly and genitals,
filling hollows and dimples
right down to the pink tips
of her toes. Eventually
shadows enveloped her
like a miasmic cloak.
In the mirror she saw
memories of memories
and not the shudder
of dust she had become.
In the street, folk saw
a swirl of fog and not
a woman named Margot.
They walked straight
through her and shivered.
Her words became a wild
keening of wind, creatures
of night her only friends.
Bats, moths, owls gathered
safe in her twilight wake.

Image created by the author

Behind the Mask

Welcome to

a bijou creative arts e-zine named after the Scottish sea mist

Sea Haar, Scarfe Rock, Lybster, Caithness.

Peat ash, carbon and pastel drawing by Magi Sinclair http://www.magisinclair.co.uk/

Unlike any previous generation we live in an age of obfuscation. We grapple with new concepts such as post truth, fake news, alternative facts, propaganda and conspiracy theories. We can no longer be sure of anyone or anything. We have lost trust in institutions and systems that previously went unchallenged. Even our lovely new friend on Facebook could turn out to be a catfish! And now, to cap it all we have a Pandemic to deal with. Human interactions have been reduced to digital media, hugs are virtual. We talk to screens and from behind a mask. When we leave home we are no longer greeted by a friendly smile from our fellow humans but an anonymous face covering. So the theme of Behind the Mask for this first edition of The Haar seems to have struck a chord. I’ve been overwhelmed by the quality and variety of submissions. A very big thank you to all the talented people who have sent in their work. It’s been an exciting task reading through everything and putting this feature together. I’m sure it will be an equally rewarding experience for readers. Please keep on scrolling to the very bottom of the page and don’t miss any of the treasures to be discovered in The Haar. Comments can be left below and also on the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thepurplehermit/

Contents in Order of Appearance:-

Unmasked Masks by Mandy Beattie
If the Face Fits by Tom Murray
Love Hurts by Leah Davis
Survival by Meg Macleod
Mask Me…by Magenta Kent
Bistable Illusions by Georgia Brooker
Ahead by Mass Index
Double Bind by Double Bind
When Two Worlds Collide by Kevin Crowe
Glass Mask by Ian Pearson
Canto 99 by Knotbrook Taylor
The Immoral Lobster by Toby Goodwin
Fold Lines by Ursula Troche
Night without Horizon by Ursula Troche
Bolted by Alastair Simmons
Through the Yew Hedge by Magi Sinclair
The Worlds Behind The Eyes that Plead by Ian Tallach
Smiles or Tears? by Rukhsana C
Denham Pebberdy – Still Alive and Unmasked by A Quiller
The Picture Above Your Name by Louise Wilford
Beyond by Jenny Bruce
Essential Items Only by Emma Mooney
Beauty from the Unexpected by Mandy and Alexandrina Beattie
This is not a…by Ursula Troche
Day 357 by Nikita Shackleton
Termination by Nikita Shackleton
Like an Angel by Trudy Gritte
Dead Ahead by Nikita Shackleton
Shhh!…by Crippled Pink

UNMASKED MASKS By Mandy Beattie

To the chemically-challenged
lockdowns are a library of then, now
and next where masks are a must —
those mole-hills the ‘Auld Alliance’
at the door between two fields
of nature and unnatural
where you dab poison
on pulse points and oxters
embalmed alive in wearing-wardrobes
of formaldehyde, rubbing alcohol
and a smorgasbord of chemicals
in a snub of noses
unmasked —

Faux-friends sucked Soorags
in a guddle at being chemical-free
around me and others’ muted —
now you know a smidgeon more
about lockdowns, masks and mole-hills
every breath a mirror
of bared teeth and chemical spills
self-harming skin and self
and everyone else
while Mother Earth cowns
for all nations regurgitating and recycling
chemicals and carbon monoxide
and carbon dioxide through emery lips
in masks and stubble on bones
seen only in bubbles and morgues
Zoom and FaceTime —

An archeological dig and dicht
unearthing my palette of kohl
mascara and damson
above moss-green and Oil of Attar
I AM Scheherazade
in A Thousand and One Nights
in this clusterburach
of a Jackson Pollack painting
I AM litmus among lichen
foraging for truffles
in Microsoft Meeting and Skype —
Scotia Primula
burrowed below mole-hills
I AM wild things resurrecting
rising with snow drops
wearing a bouquet of Persian Violet
Stargazer Lily and Peace Rose

Image by Mandy Beattie

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

IF THE FACE FITS By Tom Murray


Underwear and socks the top left drawer of the chest of drawers, masks to the right. Each mask neatly folded, and when Joe was younger laid out in order of the occasion. For a long-time the Yes, I’m really interested in what you’re saying mask was his favourite. He remembered the first time he had worn it, the careful lift out the drawer, taking out the pins and unfolding it, careful not to bend the ears, they were particularly fragile, and running a not too hot iron over the creases. Then rolling the mask down his face. That first time he had forgotten one of the pins and it had stabbed him in the mouth. Still, he didn’t let it ruin the day.
As he had gotten older though he had begun to see the necessity of carrying more than one mask when he ventured out into the world. This was brought home to him one day when the Yes, I’m really interested in what you’re saying mask had cracked mid listen to a conversation about the history of combustion engines. From then on, he couldn’t quite get a mask, any mask that fitted him as snugly as the Yes, I’m really interested in what you’re saying had.
Then one day he read an article on the new improved Weight of the World on Your Shoulders Mask in his monthly Masks for Every Occasion magazine. Our promise: a mask and face truly as one.
He didn’t believe that for a minute of course but still he took the plunge and sent away for one. When it arrived, at first, he put it away in the drawer and tried to forget about it. It had been a mistake buying it he told himself.
Every day though when he opened the drawer there it was staring up at him. Every time he would ask himself–What would be the harm in trying it on? Then right in the bin it would go.
It was a Tuesday when he finally rolled it over his face. He tried not to like it but this new improved mask you didn’t need to smooth and would you believe it, no pins. He was still determined to try it only the once but the once turned into twice and before he knew it a week had passed.
The furrowed brow and eyes slightly downcast, his face a snug fit for the mask, and best of all, it kept people at bay. It had crossed his mind at one time of ordering the grumpy mask. He had seen the effect of that though of making other people grumpy, and he was a kind soul really, he didn’t want that.
The Weight of the World on Your Shoulders made people slightly sorry for him wondering what could have caused that look on his face! Not enough though to ask him.
Worrying became as natural to him as interest in things had been in his youth.
One worry was should he order now the Too old to care what anyone thinks mask for when that time rolled around. It would be here soon enough. Getting one now could save him quite a bit of money.
He decided not to get one but to worry about whether he was making a mistake not getting one.
This decision was made in that time between wake and sleep when he dreamily caught sight of himself frowning in the wardrobe mirror. He couldn’t remember if he had taken the mask off and laid it neatly back in the drawer like he usually did. Or if he was still wearing it.

Tom Murray is a full time writer living in Dumfries. His plays have been widely performed. His stories and poems published in magazines and anthologies in Scotland, and further afield. His website: https://tmurraytg.wordpress.com His Blog: https://tommurrayborders.blogspot.com

Love Hurts by Leah Davis

Leah Davis is a pop portrait artist, focusing primarily on the female figure and self portraiture. 
Her practice has previously explored psychoanalytical theories on human behaviour, women’s empowerment, Pop Culture and societal attitudes. 
Davis is originally from Thurso, Caithness
. Her website is: www.leahdavis.co.uk 

Survival By Meg Macleod

because love is rare
and appears without definition
she makes excuses
she spends hours painting in the gaps
sorting through splintered blossoms
of her expectations

in the family friendly jigsaw
she frames the abuse

everything outside the frame fades
sunlight is shaded music is muted
points of reference clipped
into a perfect thorny thicket
behind which she disappears
her voice a whisper
no-one can hear

Meg was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.

Mask Me…by Magenta Kent

Magenta Kent is a visual and performing artist based in the North of England. She loves to make images with anything she may come across such as dead bees or the charcoal left from a burnt out greenhouse. She will incorporate objects with fabric and handmade paper. In fact, anything goes!!! She also enjoys writing poetry and is working on a book inspired by dreams.

Bistable Illusions by Georgia Brooker

There is always the other way of looking
at the young woman in furs
whose neck becomes the old crone’s sunken chin,
their lines of ink alive in each other’s shadows.

In a world of restless mirrors,
can the mind only be in one place at a time?
In this uncertainty of surfaces,
where the writing’s always backwards,
there must be some trembling field of vision
which holds it all in focus
within that vacillating tryst,
between the Mask of Love;
the single, blurring face
that, unasked, splits in two,
and kisses.

In previous chapters, Georgia Brooker has been a teacher, librarian, bookseller, editor, bibliophile, and occasional author of poems and stories. Nowadays, she is mostly mum of two and veg-gardener in-chief, and writes when no one is looking.

Ahead by Mass Index
Double Bind’, is a combined self-portrait and a collaborative work by the two artists known as Double Bind.

WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE by Kevin Crowe

They met on the Moor. Neither knew the other, both were seeking someone who was seeking something.

They met, they did what they had come to do, then left, to return to their worlds.

*

Reverend Philip Keeler, scourge of all liberals and humanists and founder of a breakaway free Presbyterian sect, was back at his unadorned desk. In his mid twenties, he still retained the dogmatism of youth. His round chubby face disguised the asceticism he claimed to believe in and wished to impose on the world, an asceticism that was visible on the bare walls of his office, decorated only with plain white paint and dark brown bookshelves containing heavy theological texts.

He had made his peace with the Lord after his most recent instance of weakness. The more his human fallibility manifested itself, the more determined he was to do his best to eliminate evil from the world. He took as his motto: “love the sinner, hate the sin”. He knew God loved him, just as He hated the sin. His faith told him God would forgive him each time he succumbed to temptation, but he also knew God required him to fight immorality wherever he found it.

He proof-read his latest article for the church’s website. He was proud of his ability to present an argument in a coherent and irrefutable manner. He believed those who refused to accept the rightness of his reasoning were blinded by propaganda from the left-wing liberal lobby. The texts were clear: God had created male and female, and to ignore this, to treat male as female, was an abomination.

He made a few minor changes before posting it, and then began his preparation for a meeting taking place later in the week. He was an expert on the science of Creationism, even if he said so himself, having written many papers debunking the basis of evolutionary theory. He was eagerly anticipating a forthcoming reading and book signing promoting the latest blasphemy by some professor he’d never heard of, and looking forward to entering the lion’s den. Like Daniel he was confident he would emerge unscathed. He prayed at least some of those present would see the error of their ways.

His mind wandered back to the events of the previous day. Horrified, he became aware of his erection. He fell to his knees in prayer, asking the Lord for the strength to avoid future visits to the Moor.

*

Professor Stephen Strachan was not best pleased. There were lots of things he should be doing, particularly as later in the week he was going on a speaking tour to promote his latest book “The Insanity of Religious Belief”. Instead, he was having to deal with the minutiae of his professional life. One of his admin staff was sick, so he was having to update his website himself. Not only that but, due to maternity leave, he had to cover some undergraduate seminars. He really didn’t see why he should have to teach, repeating the same facts ad nauseam to different groups of disinterested students. He thought teaching was for those who were intellectually incapable of carrying out original research and he managed to avoid it most of the time, but on this occasion he had no choice.

Oh well, might as well get it over with, he thought. He lifted his thin, slightly stooped six foot frame from his chair and made his way to the lecture room. He smiled to himself remembering the encounter from the previous day. He didn’t know the young man’s name or anything about him, had never seen him before and didn’t expect to see him again. Afterwards he had gone to a favourite restaurant and ate and drank his fill. He took pride in his metabolism: no matter how much he ate, he never seemed to put on any weight.

As he entered the lecture theatre, he noticed a rather attractive young man sat near the front.

*

Lorraine Strachan was having a bad day. The medical research unit she headed was under pressure: it had been made clear her team had to run at a surplus or, at the very least, break even, so she had bid for work from the private sector. Successfully, possibly too successfully. She now had more work than she could cope with, and her request for extra staff had been rebuffed, so in a bid to keep within deadlines, her staff had cut corners, with the inevitable result. She had spent most of the morning attempting to calm down an irate client.

Her day was about to get even worse: her receptionist delivered a large envelope. “A courier just dropped this off. Told me it was private”. Lorraine examined the foolscap brown envelope: apart from her name on the front, there was no indication of its contents. She opened it. A letter, signed “from a well wisher”, said the photographs had been taken the previous day at a gay cruising site, known locally as the Moor. Her hands shaking, she looked at the images of her husband having sex with another man.

She stared into space. She felt sick. She felt like screaming and throwing things at the wall, but she wouldn’t let herself lose control, not here, not at work. She choked back the tears, swallowing the rising mucus. As calmly and steadily as she could, she stood up and walked out of her office.

She had no idea where she was walking. She just pounded the pavement, thinking as she went. Why? she asked herself. Was it me? Don’t I satisfy him? The physical side had never seemed that important to him, and there was a time she wondered if he was being unfaithful. But this? She had never suspected this. Perhaps they’d been photoshopped. She shook her head. She doubted anyone could fake the things she saw in the photographs.

She began to doubt all the meetings he claimed to have attended: the many science seminars and the seemingly never-ending humanist or secularist or atheist events. All the conferences and anti-religious campaigns, all the planning meetings: were they genuine? Were any of them genuine? She rarely showed any interest in his passions and she couldn’t recall the last time she’d attended any of his events.

Well, that was about to change. She didn’t know when she would confront him, but confront him she would. She would begin to attend some of the events – starting with the first of the readings he was supposed to be giving to promote his latest book. She wouldn’t tell him, just turn up. At the very least it would cramp his style.

*

The advance publicity had worked. News of the event had spread across both mainstream and social media and Stephen Strachan’s Twitter account had become even more popular. The hall was filling up nicely. There would no doubt be some who would attempt to sidetrack the discussion in order to defend superstition, but he had plenty of experience of dealing with them.

Copies of his book “The Insanity of Religious Belief” were displayed on a large trestle table below the stage as were his earlier scientific texts, some of which peers had described as ground breaking. Although his work on evolutionary biology was not well known outside scientific circles, he had gained an enviable reputation for his popular books belittling religion, and had even hosted radio and TV programmes.

Among those congregating in the hall was the Reverend Philip Keeler. He had dispensed with his clerical collar and was wearing a shirt and tie. He browsed the books on the trestle table before taking a seat near the front. He hadn’t read the book, nor did he intend to: he wasn’t about to spend money on blasphemous texts. In any case he didn’t need to: he reckoned he knew what would be in it, and anyway the heathen would be speaking and he would respond to his words. The Lord would put the right words in his mouth.

He was busy checking his notes and collecting his thoughts, so didn’t notice the woman who sat next to him.

*

Lorraine Strachan found the venue easily enough, despite the best efforts of her SatNav. She had scanned the photos onto her mobile phone and, in the lobby of the hall, she discreetly looked at them, surprised to recognise the other man in the photographs. The bastard must really think she was stupid, flaunting his queer bit on the side so publicly. Or perhaps he just didn’t care. The divorce would cost him: the royalties from that silly book of his for a start. And what better way to destroy his reputation than a public scene?

She stormed to the front and sat next to Philip. He didn’t even look up. Surely he must have heard her: she had hardly been quiet. Perhaps he was deaf. Or more likely just plain rude.

She coughed.

He looked up.

She smiled at him, and said: “He’s married, you know.”

Philip furrowed his brow, puzzled. “Er. Who’s married?”

“My husband, he’s married to me.”

“Well, of course he is, he wouldn’t be your husband if you weren’t. Whoever he is.” Was she some sort of mad woman? he thought.

“You know damned well who he is. Don’t fucking lie to me. Don’t compound it by lying.” She realised she was beginning to shout. People were staring at them.

“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. I haven’t a clue who you are. I really don’t…”

At that moment Professor Stephen Strachan walked onto the stage.

Kevin Crowe is the author of the short story collection “No Home In This World” (2020, Fly-on-the-wall Press), is editor of the Highland LGBT+ magazine “UnDividingLines” (https://undividinglines.wordpress.com/) and has read at the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, John O’Groats Book Festival and Highland Pride.

Glass Mask by Ian Pearson

Ian Pearson trained as a scientific glassblower and set up his own studio in Thurso in 1990 where he still works mainly on commissions, one of which is this mask for an artist who is developing environmental and biological art. His website is https://glasscreationsirp.co.uk/

Please keep scrolling to see more wonderful writing and artwork…the best is yet to come!

Canto 99 by Knotbrook Taylor

Year by year, the monkey’s mask reveals the monkey:
Matsuo Basho

I wanted to be that man. Up the telegraph pole: with the
special belt. The harness holding him up. I wanted to drive
his truck; wear his rugged mask of efficiency. Saw him as I
left the village: braced in a sling; working up a pole.

I paused at a field, to make a note about the cows; wearing
masks of consanguinity. Earlier, on the community page, a
man was reading actual psalms, divinity his mask. I sent
him a message; what is a Psalm?

Looked out from the top of a hill. The forest wasn’t
wearing a mask; it was wearing a veil. Beyond; the
mountains wore blankets; hiding their slopes and faces. The
silent cars, on the silent road, wearing silent silver masks.

I paused on the bridge; was overtaken by a jeep. It stopped,
a man got out wearing fighter pilot shades, but even behind
his mask, I knew who he was. An old friend. We hadn’t
spoken for many years; it’s good to know: that you can still
like a person even after such an interval.

Hit the main road for a short distance. Saw two beekeepers;
they were wearing all over body masks, (like they do in
care homes these days), they were doing something with a
couple of hives. At first, I thought they were spraying
things into the air. Then I realised it was an impressive
tornado of angry bees. Unhappy at the disturbance; their
masks, like their gloves, were definitely off.

Knotbrook Taylor is an Angus based poet. His first chapbook ‘Beatitudes’ was published in 2007. The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh commissioned his second collection ‘Scottish Lighthouse Poems’, published in 2011. In 2014 he won the Erbacce prize for his collection ‘Ping-Pong In The Rain’.

The following short story contains Glaswegian dialect. Click here for more information https://greatbritishmag.co.uk/uk-culture/learn-glaswegian-slang/

THE IMMORAL LOBSTER By Toby Goodwin

We were sitting on the front steps of Lidl eating pastries. Flakes catching on our jumpers and floating off down Duke St. It was a rare, sunny day and we were chatting about masks. Jimmy thought it was ridiculous. Not the masks themselves, just the way folk were treating them. Letting the nose poke out, or letting the kids go back to school without having to wear them.
“I mean it wiz jist so the parents could get back tae work,” I was sayin.
Jimmy was a skinny guy. He had Buddy Holly glasses, short hair, and a brown beard that went ginger in the sun. “Aye, right enough,” he said, “but I’ve seen droves ae kids heading doon the road, no a mask in sight.” He took another bite, an apple turnover. Jimmy always had a bit of a sweet tooth, I didn’t. I had a cheesy croissant. I’d enjoyed the first couple of bites, but it was very dry.
“I mean, it’s a moot point, Jimmy. The kids aren’t high risk.” I took another bite, unimpressed. Naebody likes a dry croissant.
“Aye, I know, but the kids spread it tae the parents. Whit’s the point in having everyone inside if the kids’re gonnae spread it anyways.”
We were both in dark clothes and we had washable cotton masks on doubled elastic straps around our chins. We were halfway up the steps, looking out on a large patch of construction across the main road. Men in high-vis jackets were digging and turning cranes. Causing loud, metallic, sounds to thunder down the street. I had my backpack on the step next to me, so did Jimmy. Mine was plain black and his was this ridiculous orange colour.
“I’ve got to say I like your new bag,” I said, suspecting that it may have been a gift from his missus.
“Oh aye, it’s lobster-orange.”
“I mean… it’s no exactly subtle.”
He frowned. Jimmy was about ages wi me, maybe a bit older – twenty-six or thereabouts. We were at the age when we tried to stop thinkin about age. “I like it,” he said.
“It’s not very practical though, is it? You’d see it a mile away.”
“Well…” it looked like a satchel and it had a plasticky sheen on the outer lining. “…yer probably right, but Chantelle wiz pleased at me taking it oot.”
“She willnae be pleased if you cannae get any work done.”
“Pff,” he took another bite of his turnover. A little bit of apple sauce dribbled out and rolled down his top. He tried to wipe it with a sleeve, but it smeared.
We said nothing for a moment, watching the construction, watching the cars. Then he turned to me and went, “Did you know that lobsters are immortal?”
“Are they?”
“Oh aye, I wiz reading aboot it on Reddit. The life cycle ae a lobster goes roond and roond. When it gets auld enough it sheds its skin and a bigger lobster crawls oot. And, the thing is, when the lobster gets too big it’ll get stuck in its ain skin and it’ll die.”
“That’s weird.”
“Aye, so the article wiz sayin that, if some cunts took it upon themselves to help a lobster moult every year, then it would live forever. Like, over the generations, the lobster would get bigger and bigger, always shedding its skin with the help of these people.”
I laughed, “Like a group of lobster worshippers, like a cult for an immortal lobster.”
“Imagine some, fuckin, thousand-year-auld, fifty-foot lobster worshipped by a group ae mad shellfish fanatics.”
At that moment there was a sharp sound behind us. Incredulity’s the word; a sound of pure disdain and surprise. I looked over my shoulder to see these two middle-aged lassies by the Lidl entrance – a few steps behind us. There was a baldie, burly security guard in a fashionable, black mask holdin his arm across the sliding doorway. One of the lassies was trying to get past, but his arm was like a tree trunk.
“Nae mask, nae service,” the guy wiz sayin.
“But the fuckin vaccines oot already, get fucked,” she said. Her pal looked embarrassed. The two of them were in white strappy tops and they had blonde hair flapping about in the breeze. They were about the same height. It’s weird how groups of pals all tend to look alike. Me and Jimmy look similar anaw.
“Hen, I’m sorry. I don’t make the rules,” the security guard said.
“Let us in, we’re only after the wan thing. Fuckin dobber, man.” The lead lassie went for the door again, but the security guard didn’t budge.
“C’mon Jessie, we can go doon that corner shop,” the second lassie said. “Guy in there’s never got a mask on.”
“That’s no the point,” the first lassie barked, making her pal recoil. “Am wanting a bottle fae here.”
“Hen, it’s no happening,” the security guard said. A small queue started gathering behind them, an elderly couple in masks and a group of teenage boys, also in masks.
“A’ve got a medical problem,” the first lassie said.
“If you cannae wear a mask, you can always order deliveries – or there’s the personal shopper service.”
“Fuckin arsehole.” The girl stomped her foot, turned, and then stormed off. Her pal sighed and followed. They took a right, went down the disabled access ramp behind us and continued across the car park.
“It’s no that annoying,” I said, turning back to Jimmy. “I get folk bein frustrated and that, but it’s no hard wearin a thin piece ae fabric over yer face.”’
“Ken, it’s the easiest thing in the world. Can be a bit tricky to catch your breath when it’s hot, and it clouds up ma glasses.” Jimmy took another bite. His turnover was now about the size of a coin. I’d put my dry croissant on my knees, sick ae it.
“Aye, but it’s a jist mild inconvenience,” I said.
The two ladies continued across the car park. At the far end, there was a huge section of metal, temporary fencing covering a crumbling brick wall. It had presumably been put there out of fear of a collapse. The fence also blocked access to another set of stairs that were a bit of a shortcut onto the street. The lassies strolled right up, squeezed through a gap between two metal sections, and continued around the corner. The fence had been that way for months. You could make the argument that it was for safety, but it was a massive inconvenience. People constantly cut through. The gap between those two fences was widened and slightly bent from so much thoroughfare.
“That’s another thing,” Jimmy said, through another flaky mouthful. “I heard some folk dinnae want the vaccine.”
“Immoral! That’s, fuckin, immoral as fuck,” I said. “Get yer fuckin vaccines, people. We’re aww tryin tae make the best ae this and some bastarts are jist takin the piss.”
“They might be scared ae needles.”
“Fuck that, naebody likes needles. It’s immoral, man. Putting your ain comfort before the lives of others is immoral. Doing the right thing is so uncommon these days, man. We need more ae it.”
“Thing is, I feel like our generation’s been forgotten aboot,” Jimmy popped the last morsel of apple turnover into his mouth and stood up, brushing the flakes off his legs. “We’re the wans losing our shitey bar jobs, we’re the wans who’re gonnae inherit this economy, we’re the wans with the crippling mental health problems, drug problems, porn addictions.”
“I’ve no got a porn addiction.”
“Never said you did.”
“Aye, and I don’t. Plus, it’s no like we’re goin out of business.”
Jimmy grinned, “Speakin of,” he said, and he gestured for me to follow. I stood up, tossed the rest of my croissant for the seagulls, and we walked off the same way those lassies had gone. Jimmy stepped through the gap in the fence, and I did too – looking at that wall anxiously. We didn’t say anything as we continued down Duke St. There was faint nattering from pedestrians and the hum of car engines. Heavy, metallic sounds from the construction behind us. We crossed at the lights and continued east past the barbers, the takeaways, and that lovely mural at Duke’s Bar.
“Seein anyhin?” Jimmy said.
“Nah, no yet. There’ll be something.”
“Aye, we can check that alley further doon.”
We continued along through the gentle hustle and bustle. Folks in masks, a group of the elderly in a queue outside Boots, a group of weans on BMX’s. Eventually, we got to the far end where the shops dissolved into tenements and the dual carriageway.
“Here, you’d better do something about that bag,” I said.
“Why?”
“If we’re spotted, it willnae take Einstein to guess which wanker wi the orange backpack it wiz.”
“Alright, alright.” He took it off, “Will it fit in yours?”
“Maybe,” I took mine off and unzipped the top. I moved my crowbar to the side and pulled the RF Code-Grabber out, wrapping the wires around the receiver. I shoved it in my back pocket and widened the bag’s opening.
“Aye, that’ll be fine.” He compressed the lobster as much as he could and shunted it in. It was awkward, but with some elbow grease he managed it. I put the – now bulging – bag on my back and we continued around the corner onto a flat stretch of road lined on one side by scrap land, and on the other side by tenements. The street was empty save an old BMW 8 Series, a nineties one. Glossy, white paint.
“That’ll dae,” I said and pulled the Code-Grabber out.
“Hold on,” Jimmy said, grabbing my arm, “masks.”
“There’s naebody around.”
“Might be cameras, you never know.”
“Alright, alright.” I pulled my mask up over my chin and nose. I could feel the heat of my breath. I could smell that cheesy croissant on my tongue. “You keep an eye.”
Jimmy took a spot by the street corner, leaned against a lamppost, and pulled his own mask up. I strolled casually up to the car and started fiddling with the code-grabber. It was a combined walkie-talkie and a garage door control that we’d jimmied together with the help of a series of YouTube tutorials. It had a sliding knob on the side so we could check all the frequencies. I scrolled to the mid-range; German cars generally sit about there. Tried it, nothing. Scrolled again, nothing. Normally took a while, even with the older cars. Scrolling through every increment until I found the right one. After a few minutes, I got it. I hit the clicker and the brake lights flashed.
“We’re in.”
“Soond.”
Jimmy jogged down to the driver’s side. I got in the passenger door. Jimmy was quick; he pulled a flathead screwdriver out of his pocket and removed the panel under the steering wheel. He fiddled for a minute, finding the right wires.
“Careful, these wans lock if you touch the third fuse,” I said.
“I ken, I ken.” He reached over and started rummaging around in my bag. Well, in his bag inside my bag. He pulled out a pair of pliers, skinned two wires, and started sparking them. Blue light flashing across his face. “You know, I was reading about this Facebook-Guru this morning,” he said.
“Guru?”
“Aye, like a wise cunt. He wiz sayin we should be forgiving all these immoral mask folk and the folk who don’t want the vaccine.”
“How’s that?” I was looking out the window, scanning the street. There was still naebody.
“Well, he wiz saying that we should imagine everyone’s a tree, right. Like, when you’re walking aboot a forest, some trees aren’t as well-developed cause they’re no getting as much sun. Maybe a few branches are warped, or the leaves are a bit dry.” The car sputtered and stalled. He twisted the bare wires between a thumb and forefinger and tried it again. “And we don’t hate those trees, they’re jist fuckin trees, man. So, we should feel the same way about people, ae? Like those lassies outside Lidl, they’ve jist no got enough sun, ken?”
“That’s a nice thought,” I said.
The engine shuddered into life. Jimmy released the handbrake, put it into first, and revved twice. “Let’s sketch.”

Toby Goodwin is a twenty-five-year-old musician and writer based in Glasgow. He mostly writes contemporary fiction, but also dabbles in crime, memoir and sci-fi. He likes going for short walks on the beach, and he loves cheesecake.
Here’s a link to Toby’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TobyGoodwinWritesStuff/

Fold lines By Ursula Troche

Story was overhung
folded too, it hadn’t really started
instead it was just hanging there
until it fell off from the top

then it lay there, long, stretched, strong
unmistakably moving, something
is going on in the field outside
where it had walked, ahead of me

that’s where I learned about directions
they line up when you least expect
to read between the lines, trying
to make a point instead

but there it was, like an animal
casting me in its outlines, still
holding on to myself I wondered
if that was me now, migrated.

Photograph by Ursula Troche

Night without Horizon By Ursula Troche

The night has no horizon,
earth and sky look undivided now,
in this large, vast, dark and sparkling space
amplified and limitless, as if eternal,
over and everywhere again. The scant light
on us a combination of street- and moonlight
so you and me become outlines to touch,
our faint surfaces become sources
of depth, down to inner regions

whereas during the day I walk the edge
and try not to fall, it’s such a thin
line to cross before there is a place
to stay in, to find space in, and even with-
draw, and draw your outlines, then read
between the lines of you, find poems
in the spaces that arise in turn, here
I find an oasis, at last, here is a
place in the light, too, for the two of us

then a call emerges: I stumble across
earth deeply, along parameters and miles
of consciousness untouched, unnoticed
like a palimpsests below concrete

upon this massive moment I encounter
textures of time turning upside, then
down and tumbling, from this edge
to the next, finding everywhere a
threshold, in need of metamorphosis
and I begin to understand the cause
of change: For if space transforms then
time will do so too. We are here, for
better or for beauty, embedded into
the dimensions that hold us
across borders, between countries,
with a sense of promise that
we might know one night.

Photograph by Ursula Troche

Ursula Troche, writer, artist, and double migrant on the Irish Sea Coast in West Cumbria. Inspired by space and (translation) places and the in-between, inner lives and hidden stories. She has work published in English and German, and a collection is being translated into French. More details at: About | ColourCirclesite (wordpress.com)

Bolted By Alastair Simmons

Inside our minds there are horses
Wild galloping the moor
The stable door never bolted
While we sleep
Black eyes sharp in the white moonlight
To the land we can never name
But always know

Alastair Simmons lives on the Northeast Scottish coast, finding inspiration in the landscapes of Scotland and Northern England, and also it’s cities. And the gardens he creates,  working as a gardener. “Poetry is about finding connection and expressing that feeling, whether it’s people, nature or worlds we find ourselves in.”

Drawing by Magi Sinclair

Magi Sinclair writes about her piece:- “This is a small, mixed media image of a yew tree /hedge that had been cut through the middle to make a path in Langwell Gardens, Berriedale, Caithness. I was shocked and intrigued by the colour of the severed branches and limbs. It looked like they were weeping blood, cut through to reveal the bones of the tree”. More information about Magi’s work at http://www.magisinclair.co.uk/

The Worlds Behind the Eyes that Plead By Ian Tallach

Vessels branching from an optic disc
-too fragile, almost, for the too-
brisk coursing of the too-strong blood
-convulsing, molten, pushing up
the crust and pulsing with the thud
of every new command to live,
to be, to stand above the dust

as transient as this-
as permanent as this-

Vessels growing from an optic disc
-fluttering images, inverted
on your retina, like frightened birds
with no escape, ensnared behind
the shutter of your memory,
with disconnected quivering
and shards of fractured landscape

as violent as this –
as delicate as this –

Vessels coursing from an optic disc
-around earth’s core the pressure-flood
of magma multiplies veins thrust
up through the quaking ground. Above,
the too-strong blood is still constrained
by aching flesh – this incidental
miracle of dust and love

as arbitrary as this-
as undeliberate as this-

Vessels wander from an optic disc
-uneven as the branches of a tree,
fragile as the veins inside a leaf
and scattered as the stars
-the universe at peace-
but still, inside, the too-strong blood
is crying for salvation … for release

Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.

Oblivion by Rukhsana C

Rukhsana C relies on Imagination and Photoshop skills to create visual stories.
Please follow her work at:
https://twitter.com/c_rukhsana
https://rukhsanac.picfair.com/
RukhsanaC@Pexels

Denham Pebberdy – (Still) Alive & Unmasked By A. Quiller Steve Allinson Investigates…

GREAT EXCITEMENT HERE at The Benchcombe-Worthy Advertiser – it’s not every day a music legend comes out of retirement… but that’s exactly what Denham Pebberdy III is doing!
Yes, Denham Pebberdy – singer-songwriter with prog-rockers, Harmonic Spittoon… though many may remember him best as the voice of Mr Broom in the popular 1980s’ children’s TV series, Nothing’s Too Dirty For Jim The Janitor.
So, grab those flares, fumigate the Kaftan and get yourself down to the Benchcombe-Parva Social Club on Saturday 28th. Billed as an evening of Music – From When Music Was Music, expect intricate keyboard-driven opuses, anecdotes aplenty and, for the first time in over 40 years, a live performance of Spittoon’s so-nearly-a-hit single (it reached Number 53 in the Charts), The Nomadic Aggravation Of The Libertine Oracle.
In anticipation of Pebberdy’s return to the public stage, I went to interview him to find out more…
Arriving at his home – an unassuming semi-detached cottage on the edge of a village – I am greeted by a Fedora-wearing, exuberant fellow; mustard cords, jade shirt and crimson waistcoat. I ask if this is Pebberdy’s new look. He smiles, then explains matter-of-factly these were the only items in his size at the local charity shop. Apparently, they’d thrown the hat in for free. I consider it prudent to move on; both subject-wise and locationally.
Pebberdy shows me through to his living-room. Even a Spartan would find the place… spartan. No TV. No sofa. Nor any other furniture… but for the single, threadbare chair beside an open fire-place; inside which, incidentally, appears to be the half-charred remains of a broken piece of skirting-board. A quick glance round the room confirms the absence of such woodwork. It’s suddenly very humbling to realise just how some people have to live to make ends meet. It’s then I notice the small conservatory off to one side. The difference couldn’t be more pronounced. A keyboard, two guitars and an amp take pride of place. Whatever else Pebberdy is prepared to sacrifice in life, his music is clearly sacrosanct. I suddenly feel a new-found respect for the man.
‘I would offer you a drink,’ he says, ‘but… well, I’ve not been down the shops in a while…’
I reassure him it’s fine. I certainly don’t want to cause embarrassment. I ask if we can begin the interview and he obliges, indicating that I should take the chair. I politely decline, insisting he sit while I stand. He asks if I’ll be taking notes. It’s my turn to smile now. I show him the hand-held digital-recorder I’ll be using to capture everything we say to one another. He whistles in approval; genuinely interested in the advances in recording technology. I make a mental note, I’ll send him one in a few weeks’ time – a thank-you for agreeing to see me; he’d not wanted any payment…
We begin by covering familiar ground –
First, his moniker. An affectation. There’d never been any Denham Pebberdy the I, nor II. It had just somehow seemed right; fitted with the times. Next, the band. He’d co-founded what would later become Harmonic Spittoon with Eustace Bathurst at art college in Hove in 1968. Then, they were known as The Bathden Twins; a folk duo. Despite their posh-sounding names, neither had come from well-off families. By day they studied, worked evening shifts, then took whatever gigs they could find in the small hours. Pebberdy was employed in a local abattoir. Bathurst drew an income from life-modelling; posing nude for (mainly) ladies of a certain age. Pebberdy told me he never enquired too deeply what other arrangements Bathurst might have had in place… but I do wonder about this, as there’s a track on Spittoon’s 1977 album, Deputised Permission, called Meat. Ostensibly about Pebberdy’s abattoir experience, it’s tempting to read more into it. Consider the chorus, You’re led to your fate, No time for hate, You took our bait, To us you’re just meat
After college, the pair relocated to London. More part-time jobs. More gigging over the next five years. It was during this time they began to experiment, to develop their progressive sound. They took on a bass player, ‘Bernie the Bass’ Corrigan, as well as a drummer, Ian ‘Sticks’ Munroe; leaving Bathurst on guitar and Pebberdy playing keys and singing. 1976 saw Spittoon formally launched; Pebberdy confirming the name was his attempt to portray sonic harmoniousness, alongside his distaste for the antics of the embryonic punk movement.
Signed by Kudos Records – also in 1976 – Spittoon released their first LP, Accidental Adventure, towards the end of that same year. Thanks to their by-now heavy gigging on the London and Home Counties scene, the album sold sufficiently well for Kudos to promise a second album release. Accidental Adventure peaked at Number 74 in the UK charts but, unusually, proved a top-five seller in, of all places, the Catalonian region of Spain. Pebberdy informs me their then-manager, Freddie ‘Fingers-In-The-Till’ Worthington, attributed the success of the album to its cover… a toy pistol firing one of those flags with the word ‘Bang!’ on it. Said flag bore horizontal yellow and red stripes. Seemingly, it had been taken by Catalonian pro-independence supporters to be a thinly-veiled reference to their Estellada Vermella (red-starred flag). The band, perhaps sensibly, avoided visiting to play live; no doubt fearful of sedition charges being levelled against them by the Spanish government. That didn’t, however, prevent their manager, Freddie, from capitalising still further on their new-found success; a re-working of track three on side two, ‘Going Out With A Bang’, was quickly released. Had the national government not banned all air-play, it might have helped Spittoon get a foot-hold on the European continent.
Freddie and the band parted company soon afterwards – Freddie disappearing; together with all their royalties. Undeterred, Spittoon began recording their second – and what would be final – album, Deputised Permission. Pebberdy recounts how he and Bathurst chose to produce the album themselves. I ask if the title is a nod to this. He says it might be, but he can’t remember. In fact, he confides he can’t remember much about the recording sessions at all.
It’s ‘elephant-in-the-room’ time. I prepare to ask Pebberdy about the break-up of the band. Just two weeks after the album was released, the members went their separate ways – not even the almost-successful, aforementioned Libertine Oracle single enough to keep the four-piece together. In previous interviews I’ve read (granted, the most recent dates from the 1990s), Pebberdy has reacted in one of two ways to such questioning – violence towards the interviewer; or towards himself. I’m ready to make a dash for it… But Pebberdy takes it in his stride. ‘Drugs… women… and more drugs…’ He sighs. ‘One of those things… you know.’ I ask if he’s seen any of his former band members since 1977. He says he hasn’t. I ask if he’s interested in a reunion. He says he isn’t, and that The Eagles had it right… ‘When Hell Freezes Over’. I point out, as politely as I can, that The Eagles did actually get together again; that they embarked on a highly lucrative tour under that very name. He shrugs, then mumbles, ‘Sell-out’. I’m not sure if this is a reference to The Eagles’ success, or to their – in his eyes – lack of musical integrity. I choose not to pursue it further.
I check my watch. We’ve been talking now for over an hour. Time for the ‘big one’ – the reason for Pebberdy’s come-back. I ask him when he first discovered he was trending on social media; that he’d become ‘a thing’? He replies that the counter assistant in the local pharmacy brought it to his attention a couple of months ago – he’d only popped in for a tube of cream to soothe a particularly-intimate area – asking him if he was ‘the Dirty Broom guy?’ Near enough, he’d thought. He confirmed he was. The assistant had asked for a selfie, had posted it on Facebook… and all this had stemmed from that.
Little-known fact, readers. Pebberdy wrote the theme tune to Nothing’s Too Dirty For Jim The Janitor. It was released as a single, climbing to Number 28 in the Charts. But it’s the B-side that interests us. In homage to John Cage’s ‘4:33’– the song commonly mistaken for mere silence… when Cage intended the music to be the listener’s audial environment itself – Pebberdy composed 33:4… as the name implies, just over thirty-three minutes of one continuous D chord, played on a Hammond organ, which terminates with the sound of him clearing his throat into a spittoon. Conceptualised and recorded in 1978, it was his way, musically, of drawing a line under his band-days. I ask Pebberdy how this piece – or, rather, the final three minutes or so of it – came to be included as the B-side of the Jim the Janitor single almost a decade later. Again, he can’t recall.
What he can recall, though, is lawyers for the American-owned Reality Media Inc contacting him recently to apologise for the company’s inadvertent sampling of the end of ‘33:4’ on one of its market-leading, shoot-em-up Virtual Reality games; the snappily-titled Drop Down Dead in Dodge City. The scene in question allows players to test whether they’re quicker on the draw than the feared outlaw, Long-Breeches Madigan. The shoot-out takes place in a saloon. If the player wins, the D chord commences, swelling in volume as a bar-tender slides them a whisky along the counter-top; after which, a buxom good-time-girl who’s chewing tobacco projects said baccy into a spittoon… and all to Pebberdy’s original sound effect.
Pebberdy tells me that, from the discussion he’s had with their lawyers, Reality Media Inc clearly wants to avoid a costly legal case. I ask Pebberdy if they’ve made him an offer. He confirms they have… though he declines to talk figures; nor when he’ll actually be paid. He adds that it’s thanks to this he’s now acquiring a whole new generation of fans. Plus he’s getting to do the come-back gig he’d secretly always hankered after. Just the one, I ask? We’ll have to wait and see, he replies.
For now, this new generation – these Dodge Cityers, if you will – may only equate Pebberdy with being their Spitter… their Dirty-Broom Guy… but I’m hopeful, in time, they’ll find their way to Harmonic Spittoon’s back catalogue and come to appreciate his wider, genuine talent.
All together now – and be careful where you aim – Hhccch Pttiiingg!

The Picture Above Your Name By Louise Wilford

The self-conscious tilt of the hat-brim screens
half your face. Camouflage. The scarf,
climbing your neck and cradling your chin,
composes your anonymity. There’s no revelation
in the grainy curve of lines down each thin cheek,
from the gloom of your nose to the passport smile.
You’re concealed, lost in plain sight. Cheerful wit
sculpts your online chat. There, you cloak your courage
in irreverent wit – you consider your words with care,
hiding your caution, controlling your discourse.

But when we talk, alone, in the sleepless hours,
connected by a mobile mast somewhere
out on the hills that lie between us,
your voice is rough as water falling over rocks –
and much deeper than I guessed. Your words
waver from cool to hot, veined with an electric wire
that flames against my ear. Your talk is woven
of folktales – goblins and were-folk, the forested
landscapes of your living and your life.
I can feel your laughter in my veins.

When we meet, will I know you still?
Will you smell of grass and clay, of the trees
you climb, and the stone walls you build,
of the wind rattling through reeds at the water’s
edge? Will your face be puckered with squinting
at poems, skin coarsened by outdoor life, pale eyes
narrowed from staring at the clouds? I know
the hole you make in the world. I might not
know your face, your flesh – but I know
your midnight voice, the mask-less dreams
that hold you tight when you cannot sleep.

Louise Wilford’s work has been widely published. In 2020, she won First Prize in the Arts Quarterly Short Story Competition and the Merefest Poetry Competition, and she was awarded a Masters in Creative Writing ( Distinction). She is working on a fantasy novel. Blog: https://louviewsnewscues.blogspot.com/

Drawing by Jenny Bruce

The natural world and history have always intertwined in the execution of Jenny Bruce’s artwork. Archaeology, both ancient and industrial, and engineering likewise play large parts in her expression of the visual world through the creative mediums of painting,writing or poetry. Social media.  Facebook sites:- Jenny Bruce or Sharing Art with Jenny.       

       

                                  

ESSENTIAL ITEMS ONLY By Emma Mooney

Helen swings into a space in front of the D.I.Y. superstore, giant orange letters inviting her in. She lifts the face mask from the passenger seat, hooks it over her ears and looks in the rear-view mirror. Today’s the first time she’s worn it and, Jesus, she barely recognises herself. She scans the car park, checks and double-checks that no one is nearby before getting out of her car and walking to the entrance.
Stepping onto the yellow circle on the ground she remembers a game they used to play in the school gym: sharks and islands. She looks at the concrete shop floor in front of her no longer sure she wants to be here. But too late. A young boy wearing an orange apron raises his hand and beckons her to come in. Helen looks over her shoulder at the small queue that’s already formed behind her, each shopper standing on their own island. It’s probably safer to go forward.
Inside she follows the one-way system, scanning the signs above her head for the plumbing aisle. The drip, drip, dripping has kept her awake every night since lockdown and, if she doesn’t fix it soon, she fears she’s going to go insane. The tap washers are hanging on hooks at eye level, but she never thought there’d be so much choice. And nobody warned her that wearing a face mask would steam up her glasses. She takes out a tissue, wipes her glasses, and then folds it into a small square and tucks it into the back pocket of her jeans, making a mental note to bin it as soon as she gets home. Thankfully the packets are labelled on the front so she doesn’t need to touch anything. Nylon, polythene, rubber. How is she supposed to know what kind of washer to choose? Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. She unhooks a packet of nylon washers and, trying to handle as little of the packet as possible, she carries it in a pincer grip toward the tills.
She stops.
The automatic doors to her right swoosh open and she gazes in. Empty shelves and pallets stare back at her but her eyes are fixed on a single weary plant in the corner and her cheeks sook inwards as she remembers…
All the kids in her street would congregate together, dirty faces and dirty knees, cap guns stuffed into the pockets of cut-off jeans. They’d make their way down to the bottom of Jimmy Jackson’s back garden at the end of the row of terraced houses because that’s where, among the jaggy nettles and the long grass, the rhubarb grew. The plant was ginormous and they’d take turns breaking off a stalk and dipping it into a poke of sugar.
Helen steps forward and, once again, the doors to the garden centre slide open. She slips the tap washers into her pocket and crosses the threshold. The air is warm and still and she pulls down her mask to breathe in the sweet scent of honeysuckle. If she’s imagining the smell she doesn’t care. She picks up the potted rhubarb with both hands and laughs, already imagining her granddaughter’s face as she takes her first bite.

Note:- Rhubarb can’t be harvested until a year after it was planted.

Scottish writer, Emma Mooney is the author of A Beautiful Game and Wings to Fly, both published by Crooked Cat Books. Emma graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Stirling and is currently working on the edits of her next novel. Checkout her work at http://www.emmamooney.co.uk.

Rag rug made by Alexandrina Beattie

Sometimes there is beauty from the unexpected. The vibrant flowers of this textile piece have bloomed from humble beginnings. When Mandy Beattie moved into her house which was built in 1880 she found a pile of old potato sacks in the attic. They may have been up there since the year dot. Her mother Alexandrina was inspired to use one as the foundation for this fabulous rag rug, a special gift for her daughter. Mandy says that it is now one of her most treasured possessions. Thanks to both of them for sharing this personal story and image.

This is not a… By Ursula Troche

‘Ceci n’est pas une bouche’ – ‘this is not a mouth’, I wrote on my mask, paraphrasing Magritte’s ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. Magritte’s point was that this was just an image, not the real object. So there’s a dimension of unreality to images which we so often overlook. Reality then, is layered, and images and objects aren’t the same.
And now, in pandemic times, it seems we have to make do with layers. When we meet, we often meet online, and see each others’ images on zoom – and when we meet in reality, we have to put a layer between our mouth and ‘the real world’.
It’s unreal somehow and at the same time our new reality. Things are not clear or direct, everything has to happen in roundabout ways. It’s a dull, fuzzy, foggy picture – but not like the haar which is physical – now we are not exposed to anything we can touch or feel! It’s a surreal situation. We are exposed to the virus, which we are trying to protect ourselves from with our masks, but the danger is impossible to see. It sounds like another episode to the old film ‘The Invisible Man’: now it’s this virus that we have to hide from – try not to let it catch us, in the absence of a sign.

We are on the run. We might have been on the run from ourselves before. Now the past emerges too! Then it was us, now it’s a virus. Or both! This pandemic is so symbolic – though it’s worse too. We have to deal with us as a collective as well, as we are all exposed to the effects of what went wrong – and that is to do with environmental degradation, deforestation. The virus has hit us like a nuclear accident, and is a sign that our system is cracked – and so are we, with it.

Behind the mask, our inner life might spill out. The past lies there in pieces, as therein lies the truth? What does each layer that we have to carry on our mouths and noses do to us? Ironically, with the mask on, we are more exposed to ourselves than without. It’s as if now, behind our physical mask, we are more naked than we had ever been with any mental masks that have been part of us before. Or maybe it’s now that all our previous masks are coming out. The painfulness of not being able to connect freely is revealing things that had been hidden before.
The mask, our paper curtain, like a little tiny Iron Curtain, but battling not only with ‘the other side’ but with ourselves too!
I remember, at the beginning of our lockdown, remembering one of my favourite songs, with the title that now acquires another meaning This Masquerade!: “Are we really happy with this lonely game we play, looking for words to say… We’re lost, in this masquerade.”

Masquerade! Maybe we can only identify it now, forgetting what masking had been going on so far, some of which so inbuilt into our society that they have become normal. The dangerous normal: environmental degradations, deforestation, practices that have made this world ill, and so the virus is just a sign for us to stop. Metamorphosis in need. And yet the lockdown is hard.

Unrealities of life revealing deeper realities of the subconscious, and there comes out life again, but not as we expected it. Questions.
What will life be when this is over? When we can take the ‘lockdown masks’ off, will we replace them with our masks of old?
Look out, the answer my friend, may be blowing in the haar…

Ursula Troche, writer, artist, and double migrant on the Irish Sea Coast in West Cumbria. Inspired by space and (translation) places and the in-between, inner lives and hidden stories. She has work published in English and German, and a collection is being translated into French. More details at: About | ColourCirclesite (wordpress.com)

Day 357

a strange dawn uncurls
oyster pink I am breathing
alone in my shell

Haiku and image by Nikita Shackleton

Termination By Nikita Shackleton

I am squeezing my Self into an empty crisp
box. Guards wearing smiley masks watch
from three rifles distance. Muted
comrades observe from a perspex Zoom

box. Guards wearing smiley masks watch
my hands tremble as I clear out my desk:-
driver’s license, a diary with twenty-twenty
visions, a framed photo of a kitten in a tree.

My hands tremble as I clear out my desk:-
a notebook full of redactions, a wee feisty
cactus, a broken compact mirror, tampons,
lipsticks, tissues and a stained pair of pants,

a notebook full of dictations, a wee feisty
box of Black Magic, a blunt pencil with teeth
marks, my first draft of an Utopian Manifesto,
A Dummy’s Guide to Democracies, an empty

box of Black Magic, a blunt pencil with teeth,
an eraser shaped like a penis, a list of dreams,
an emergency jam jar and a wedding ring.
In the bottom drawer I find the forgotten;

an eraser shaped like a vagina, a list of dreams,
the one who truly loved me, the candle burned
at both ends, the first rainbow ever seen, secret
wishes, a rope bridge with the missing link,

the one who never loved me, the candle burned
the dirty girl I hated at primary school, the key
to the midnight garden. Shushing faces observe
while I squeeze my Self to an empty crisp.

CONTENT WARNING! Racism, racial slurs, hate speech in the following story which may offend.

LIKE AN ANGEL By Trudy Gritte

Doris stumbled out onto Dulness High Street in a state of humiliation. Her English rose complexion flamed an unflattering shade of tangerine. Like a statue she stood in the middle of the pavement hindering the tidal wave of Christmas shoppers. Snowflakes tumbled from a grey sky but Doris never noticed. Her brain was in overload. She was struggling to comprehend what had occurred within the dimly-lit interior of Kaleidoscope Gift Shop and Café.

Doris was tempted into the shop by the cute rolling pin in the window display, hand-painted with images of Santa and his reindeer, it would have been perfect for making her mince pies. She loved Christmas so much. She could never have enough tinsel, baubles and fairy lights. So she ventured into Kaleidoscope for the first time and was astounded by all the beautiful Christmas decorations and gifts. But when she looked at the label on the exquisite rolling pin she was dismayed to see it was made in China. So that was that. Derek wouldn’t tolerate anything Chinese in the house. Doris browsed the shelves admiring the jewellery, notebooks, pictures, cards, porcelain and knick-knacks. She fell in love with a jade bracelet but that was made in China too. Derek was quite right. They were taking over the world with their rolling pins and jewellery. The last straw was the cat calendar. It was the sweetest cat calendar she’d ever seen. Doris simply adored cats! But that was Chinese too! Can you believe it! Didn’t they eat cats in China? Or was it dogs? She wasn’t too sure now.

The amount of foreign garbage for sale in this shop was unacceptable so Doris marched up to the counter to complain. Well, not so much marched as shuffled because there was a long queue of people with happy faces and loaded baskets. She had to wait her turn and that was unacceptable too. The woman in front was fat and smelled of garlic. Three small children were hanging onto her coat, faces smeared with chocolate. Riffraff. They really need to stop these people breeding.

At last it was Doris’s turn. She looked up and there was a tall black woman smiling down at her with one of those veil thingies wrapped around her head. A hib-jib or was it a hobnob? Something like that. ‘How can I help you, madam?’

‘I want to speak to the Manager, please’, said Doris.

‘Well, that’s me. Is there a problem?’

‘Isn’t there someone else in charge, who is the owner of this establishment?’ asked Doris.

‘I am the proprietor of Kaleidoscope. Please tell me what the problem is Madam because I have customers waiting.’

‘You have too many foreign goods in this shop. I am proud to be British and I only buy British.’ Doris straightened her back and tried to look imperious. She heard a snigger from the young woman standing behind her. Doris cast a dirty look over her shoulder noticing purple hair, a nose stud and an orange coat. What right had she to laugh, some tart who didn’t even know how to dress properly.

‘I’m sorry you’re disappointed Madam. My stock comes from a variety of sources and I’m sure much of it is made in Britain.’

‘Such as what? Show me’.

I’m sorry but if you don’t intend to buy anything will you please step away so I can serve this lady.’

Doris grabbed a carved wooden goose from a revolving display stand. It was wearing a festive garland. She waved it in Hobnob’s face. ‘Is this British?’

Hobnob checked the base of the ornament. ‘No, this one is made in Germany.’

‘’Germany!’ Doris snorted with disgust. ‘After everything they’ve done!’ She realised that people were staring at her.

‘I really must insist that you step away, Madam. If you don’t like my shop then please leave.’

Doris suddenly noticed cakes and pastries for sale in a glass cabinet by the café area. She quite fancied a nice cake for tea. It would be a treat for Derek, take his mind off being made redundant.

‘Have you got any Victoria Sandwich Cake? ‘ she asked.

‘We have Baklava, Key Lime Pie, Apple Strudel, Belgian Chocolate Cake, Tarte au Citron and Panetonne, all very delicious but no Victoria Sandwich Cake I’m afraid’.

‘’Key Lime Pie, that’s a Yankee dessert, isn’t it? Well they’re a bunch of big mouths. And I wouldn’t eat Baklava if I was starving. I don’t swallow anything unless it’s made in Britain’.

Hobnob and Purple Tart started laughing. A man wearing a Santa hat and holding a Winter Wonderland jigsaw, piped up. ‘Hurry up, you racist bitch’.

‘Yeah, clear off Mrs Fancy Pants,’ shouted a woman wearing a beret who looked like a Communist and they all started laughing. At her. At Doris. How dare they!

She couldn’t remember actually leaving but abruptly found herself outside in the cold, the smug tinkle of the door chime still echoing in her ears. Crowds of shoppers swarmed past, ignoring her as if she was a nothing, a nobody.

She couldn’t think straight. Now concentrate Doris. What else was on her list of chores? She spotted the Building Society across the road and recalled Derek’s instructions to make another withdrawal from their savings account. The money was going down faster than expected since Derek lost his job. Her hands trembled as she pressed the button for the pelican crossing and waited for the little green man.

Doris could see herself reflected in the building society window opposite; a slim figure with blonde hair in a pony tail, wearing a coat with a fur collar. She was not a racist, she said to herself. She was a good person. She went to Church every Sunday, she was kind to animals, she donated to charities. As she watched her reflection the snow stopped and a shaft of sunlight broke through the overcast sky. It beamed down on her like a blessing. Her figure was illuminated by an unearthly light. She was an angel descending from heaven. Her face radiant, white and pure. Mesmerised by her own image Doris walked forwards into the road too soon. Needless to say, the car that broke her neck was not made in Britain.

Dead Ahead, photograph by Nikita Shackleton

SHHH! By Crippled Pink

Can you keep a secret? I have a guilty one that I’ve never told a soul. So I hope you’re sitting down when I tell you that a small part of me is enjoying Lockdown.

Along with the fear, boredom and grief there is a sense of empowerment. For the first time I am the one at an advantage. Covid has levelled the playing field. Stay at home, avoid people, protect yourself….easy peasy….what’s so difficult about that? For once, the tables are turned and the non-disabled are having to learn some resilience, self-sufficiency and come face to face with their own mortality. It’s about time, I say. Along with thousands of other disabled people that’s what I’ve had to do for as long as I can remember.

Historically, disabled people have been excluded from full participation in society by a non-disabled majority. We had to fight and struggle for years to win our rights as equal citizens but even in 2021 barriers remain. There is discrimination and prejudice everywhere. Despite the Equality Act of 2010 not much has changed. There are improvements in physical access such as ramps and lifts but in practice the environment is still largely inaccessible. Building regulations are not enforced. Hate crime persists. It is still more difficult for a disabled person to get a job or go on holiday or go to the the theatre. Many live in poverty particularly since the introduction of PIP. Whatever your disability, going out into the world each day is hard work, it require guts and determination to keep facing the endless challenges. Some are forced back into their own homes, existing in isolation and sometimes in chronic pain, on a low income and with minimal support from Social Care. Staying at home is the norm for many as they grow older. As for missing jolly trips to the pub…there may well not be an accessible pub within twenty miles of your home. Lockdown or not, meeting mates down the pub might be as likely as a trip to the moon.

If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. In this Pandemic age there is a new normal. Disabled people have acquired survival skills that are proving useful. We are more resilient, emotionally self-sufficient, adaptable. We are accustomed to planning ahead and being alone. Disabled people tend to live on the cusp of crisis mode. There is no certainty so we learn to cover every possible eventuality. I bought respirator masks, hand sanitiser and extra food supplies a month before the UK went into the first Lockdown. Since a botched up NHS operation in 2018 I can no longer drive my car and must rely on Internet shopping. Lockdown doesn’t feel that much different to me but in some ways it is better. The miraculous advent of Zoom means I can catch up with long-lost friends, participate in meetings and online events I was previously unable to do. People have more time for each other, more time to talk, to care. People are learning to appreciate what really matters in life; the importance of loved ones, of the natural environment and the interconnectedness of the world. So when we surface out of the Pandemic I sincerely hope society will not return to the ruthless rat race of the bad old days. I hope, for once, we will be better.

Thank you for exploring The Haar at The Purple Hermit. I hope you enjoyed the treasure in the mist. The Haar will return with a new theme when you are least expecting…so keep watching this space!

Kind thoughts to all readers, writers and artists from Nikita Shackleton, 7th April 2021.

Why I Do What I Do

I probably inherited the creative gene from my maternal grandfather. He was a writer, photographer and political dissident in the former Soviet Union. He wrote for an underground newspaper and spent time in prison because of his views. Every birthday and Christmas he would send me a card with a specially written poem. He encouraged me to read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn at an early age. After his death in 1974 my grandmother gave me his camera which contained a roll of exposed black and white film. Years later I developed the film in my home darkroom and found images of myself as a young adolescent. It was a spine-tingling moment, alone in the dark watching the images slowly materialise and seeing myself the way my grandfather saw me. The images were faded and decomposed because of the length of time they’d spent inside his camera. They had aged, they had scars – like myself.

In the beginning was the word, according to the Gospel of John in the Bible. We experience and interpret the world through language. We write the words and the words write us. I’ve always associated writing with the desire to make the world a better place. It’s a way of getting inside someone else’s head, a chance to see life from another point of view. Writing has a therapeutic value but it’s much more than that…it leads to greater understanding and tolerance between people. It is a powerful tool for personal and social change. Writing can break down barriers, build bridges.

As a disabled woman I have been marginalised by a society that treats people as disposable commodities within the Capitalist machine. Throughout history disabled people have been ignored, silenced, treated as if we are stupid, useless. Alas, the ‘does she take sugar?’ attitude persists even in the 21st century. Disability is the last great taboo which feeds on society’s fear of death, illness and impairment. This is an issue which affects everyone, disabled and non-disabled, because we all age, sooner or later our bodies start to let us down and no-one is ever perfect. We live in a society obsessed with superficial appearances, it’s a kind of body fascism and it creates a lot of misery.

Creative writing and art have given me an equal voice. They have empowered me, helped to counter the negative stereotypes of disability that underpin mainstream culture. Visual arts and writing are two sides of the same coin for me. I often incorporate text in my artwork through collage and photography. I enjoy unexpected juxtapositions. I tend to use abstract and surreal imagery and a lot of colour in both poetry and art. They are just different ways of communicating my unique experience of the world. In recent years I’ve focused more on poetry as it feels purer, more precise. It satisfies my obsessive compulsive streak! Poetry works through the construction of images, as well as metaphor, rhythm and rhyme. And there is the important visual element of words typed on paper, black on white, the shape of the poem on the page. Concrete poems, ekphrastic poems, black-out poems, cut-up poems, acrostic poems all rely on our visual sense.

I am often asked about my working methods. Like many writers I keep a journal. I try to write every day even if it’s just a few words. Ideas and phrases frequently come to me at night and I record them on my phone otherwise they are lost. Sometimes the first line of a poem will take root in my mind and I can’t rest until I’ve put it down on paper. Once it gets a hold on me I can’t let go until it’s finished. Stephen King said that when he’s writing it’s as if he’s just a channel, a conduit for a story that already exists in a mysterious parallel universe. I agree. Like King I believe in what the psychologist Carl Jung named the collective unconscious. Creative people and mystics are able to tap into universal images and stories that we need in order to navigate our path through a complex and difficult life.

There have been many tines when creativity has literally saved my life. I survived several long hospital stays trapped in a bed alone in a small room because I had paper and pencils. I was able to make my mark on a world that seemed to have forgotten me. I have a vivid memory of drawing a vase of anemones on my bedside locker when I was in intensive care at the age of nine after spinal surgery that left me paralysed. Looking at those delicate flowers, the pastel colours, the shapes and recording them on paper reminded me of the beauty of the world beyond the horror and pain of the hospital.

We all need art, we all need stories, we all need to survive.

Photo by Angus Mackay

Home is Where the Heart Stops

Part one

The smell hit her the instant she opened the door. A mix of cats, geraniums and cigarettes. Isabel hated smoking and potted geraniums in equal measure. She didn’t own a cat. She shoved the mountain of accumulated mail out of the way with her crutch. The paramedic placed her bags inside the hall and disappeared down the overgrown path without saying goodbye, still grumbling about how you were only allowed one piece of luggage in an ambulance.

Isabel closed the door behind her and locked it. Her hands shook and her heart threw summersaults of joy to be home, in her own private space, finally away from the prying eyes and probing fingers of the white coats. She’d thought this day would never come. She’d thought it was over, the end of the road, kaputt, finito, nothing left except bedpans, pain and humiliation. No future except days lying in her own stink, face down in a bowl of hospital porridge while the fat lady sang.

Panting with exertion she shuffled slowly into the living room and sank into the cane chair by the French doors that faced onto the garden. She’d missed her mountains, the light and emptiness of the vast sky. Her solitary room on Ward 3A looked out onto a brick wall. She couldn’t see the sky at all, not even a sliver. The only way she could tell if the sun was shining was by the light reflecting in the brickwork, the changes in hue. On a bright day the bricks gleamed like tiger’s eye. On a grey day they were a dull flesh pink.

Now Isabel surveyed her garden, still marvellous despite the weeds and rampant lawn. The hollyhocks blazed magenta. The roses drooped with lush scarlet blooms, the honeysuckle smothered the archway and on the horizon Morven and Scaraben glowed purple in the evening sun. She sat there for a long while, just breathing, in, out, in, out. She was alive. She was home. No one could hurt her now.

And then she saw the boots. Dirty workmen’s boots placed casually in the middle of the kilim rug she’d brought back from Turkey. They were caked with mud, one boot tilted as if they’d been cast off in a hurry, the soles worn, the brown leather wrinkled with age. Her chest tightened in panic and she scanned the room for other signs of disturbance. Everything seemed much as she’d left it the day of the accident other than a layer of dust and a few cobwebs. There were books and magazines in a tidy pile on the coffee table, logs stacked by the wood burner and dead daffodils in a stained glass vase on the window sill. Her grandmother’s vintage clock had stopped at five to five.

Isabel couldn’t bear to touch the disgusting boots with her bare hands so she nudged them closer with her crutch. One of them tipped over and a tiny square of paper fell out. Leaning unsteadily from her chair she picked it up and unfolded it with trembling fingers.

Written in red biro on a torn piece of graph paper was just one word, ‘remember’.

To be continued…

image by the author

The Floating Road

A dark tale from the mysterious peatlands of Scotland….

A small man wearing a hard hat waited at the side of the road just before the bend. Behind him a Toyota pick-up loaded with drainage pipes was parked in a passing place. On the opposite side a gravel track led up through freshly churned peat to the brow of a hill where a JCB digger was silhouetted against the winter sky. The man checked his mobile phone and shuffled his boots in the dirt at the side of the road. He noticed a dead rabbit lying at the edge of the tarmac. It’s rear legs had been chewed off by a predator but one eye was moving in the socket…alive.

A cold easterly wind blew in from the sea. All around him the ochres, rusts and browns of the mossy peat bog dissolved into a pattern of undulating stripes stretching out as far as the horizon. The man had twinkling blue eyes and a rosy complexion but his mouth was permanently twisted into a thin grimace as if he was trying hard not to laugh at a secret joke.

His name was Douglas Macleod but everyone called him Slip because like a fish he would always slip and slide away from troubled waters and swim towards the easy money. Slip Macleod thought he was born lucky. He inherited the family business, a Victorian farmhouse and five hundred acres at an early age. Within three years he made his first million. His wife was slim, blonde and never asked inconvenient questions, even when he indulged in ‘playing away’ and drinking weekends with his best mate Alec. At fifty he had good health. He could drink nine pints of lager, entertain one of those Glasgow tarts all night in the back of his Jag and still manage the seven hour drive home to the Far North without any sleep. A good weekend like that would set him up on a high for at least a month and the best thing was there were no consequences.

The sky darkened and the wind threatened rain. Slip had decided to continue his vigil from inside the truck when his phone exploded into the opening bars of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. The screen displayed an unknown number and for a second Slip hesitated in case it was one of his dissatisfied customers, but then he pressed the green answer button.

‘Yep?’ he growled into the phone. There was a silence. ‘Yep?’ he said again.

‘Hello…hello…can you hear me?’ said a woman with a Glaswegian accent.

‘Yep…who’s that?’

‘…first day…return…mind the way…Gordon please…’, the line was breaking up.

‘Ye what? Gordon who…? I canna hear ye woman!’

‘…got to listen…safe please…it’s coming…’

‘Ye what?’

Slip held the Samsung up above his head trying to get a signal and moved away from the truck into the middle of the road. The screen briefly registered one bar and then none at all. The call disconnected and there was silence. Suddenly there was no wind, just stillness in the grass. Slip gazed into the distance where the silver ribbon of the floating road disappeared into the twilight haze. There seemed to be something moving towards him, a blurred shape too big and too dark to be the familiar blue car he was waiting for. Ferry traffic perhaps or a freight wagon loaded with refrigerated fish heading down the line, no headlights showing despite the November gloom. His phone rang again, now there were two bars of signal.

‘Bloody Vodafone,’ Slip said out loud before he answered. ‘Yeah, what is it?’

‘Watch out, it’s coming,’ said the woman.

‘Ye what?’ asked Slip for one last time.

He didn’t feel much. Just an immense pressure in the back of his head and then all the air was sucked out of him. The final moment he was lying at the side of the road looking into the rabbit’s eye.

Artwork by the author

The Hill O’ Many Stanes

My third and final guest poet is Mandy Beattie. Here is her mysterious poem inspired by a local Scottish landmark of standing stones.

A pantry of organic nettle tea
and skeins of wild raspberries
tumble through the turnstile
between times
of concrete & standing-stanes
where sky sits
a duck-egg blue ceiling
on the Hill O’ Many Stanes

The Land O’ The Cat
where Hairy-Brottachs hatch
into Louded Yellow and
Green-Veined White butterflies
and dandelion clocks puff
among mosaics of standing-stanes

Kneeling at a silver stane-pew
palming ley-lines with my life-lines
I am litmus among lichen
waking-dreaming of way-back-when
the Wee Folk jigged
in amethyst heather and fairy rings
in The Land O’ the Cat
where the veil’s still thin between worlds.

Poem Copyright of Mandy Beattie

Note:- The Hill o’ Many Stanes consists of about 200 small stones arranged in rows running down a low hill in East Caithness, Northern Scotland. They were erected about 4,000 years ago, possibly for gatherings and religious ceremonies. Caithness was once known as the Land of the Cat People, a reference to an ancient legendary tribe of Picts who inhabited the area.

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

Image created by Mandy Beattie