George Richard’s head was globular, his face round, pasty and podgy. When pitted with childhood acne, he had been called Moonboy and mercilessly bullied at school.

One day Norris, the geography teacher, giving a lesson on topography, noticed a cleft between his eyebrows, his chin, and creases to the sides of his eyes. ‘Your face resembles a compass, Richards.’ George flinched as a stiff finger prodded each facial imperfection as the teacher itemised the points. ‘North, South, East, West. The thing is, Richards, it’s broken. Which is why you are directionless and will come to nothing.’

The bullying and the unkindness of the adults and children in his formative years ensured he came to nothing much. He drifted, did drugs, and developed an obsession with body art. He thought tattoos would conceal his ugliness, project a more confident persona.

His father, an undertaker, would have liked his son to join him in the business, but feared the ink creeping across his hands and face would upset his clientele. The mourners, that is. Instead, he persuaded a friend who managed the local crematorium to take him on.

Out of sight in the bowels of the Crematorium George learned to operate the furnace, to inspect the ashes in the cremation chamber for metal remnants, such as screws and plates from surgical procedures, before grinding the ashes and filling the urns. He was soon considered competent and trustworthy. So trustworthy he could access the facility in the dead of night to dispose of the body of Mr Norris.

The next day he visited the local tattooist, where he had the letter ‘N’ tattooed on his forehead above the cleft between his eyebrows. Later, looking in the mirror above the fireplace he admired the elegant strokes of the letter. N for North, N for Norris. He smiled at the urn containing his former teacher’s ashes standing on the mantle piece. ‘I’m fixing my compass, Mr Norris. I know where I’m heading now.

His classmate tormentors would soon provide the other points of his compass: Sugden, Easton, and Wicks.


Life Sentence

‘Jake! You look well, considering.’ Gerry held the pint glass under the tap, his biceps bulging as he pulled the lever. ‘Usual?’

Jake grinned across the bar. ‘Yeah. Surprised you remember.’

Gerry slid the glass towards him. ‘On the house,’ he said, palms open.

‘Thanks, Gerry. Appreciated.’

‘Been a while, eh?’

‘Three years.’

‘Sonia better brace herself, said Angie, giggling into her glass. She knows you’re out?’

‘Gonna see her when she finishes work.’

A pair of rheumy eyes peered over a newspaper. ‘Thought you got six?’

Jake glanced sideways at the old man. ‘I was a good boy, Syd,’ he said, then winked at Angie. ‘An exemplary prisoner, they said.’

‘What was it like… you know. In prison?’

‘What do you think, Angie? You think it was Butlins? Three years I won’t get back.’

‘Alright! I was only asking.’

Gerry held a glass up, turning it in the light. ‘What you gonna do?’

‘This and that. Got a bit of catching up to do.’ Jake drained his glass. ‘I’ll have a packet of pork scratchings for the train, Gerry.’

Stepping out of The Nelson Jake sucked in the city air and smiled. Then, turning right into the station entrance he skipped down into the bowels of the underground against a rising wave of home bound commuters to stand near the edge of the platform. He felt the warm fusty air pushed from the tunnel by the approaching train wash over him. Savouring a pork scratching he watched mice scurry between the rails.

‘Jake Gilmour, isn’t it?’

Jake turned to the woman looking up at him. He’d seen her expression on the face of fellow inmates: grey, broken, drained of life. ‘Do I know you?’

‘You knew my husband.’

‘Yeah? What’s his name?’

‘George Turnbull.’

‘Jake stepped back. Listen, I did my…’

‘Time?’ A finger prodded his chest. ‘Six years, and out walking the streets in three. That’s not time. George is doing time.’ Jake felt each accusatory stab of the stiff finger. ‘Since you beat him, broke his skull, he can’t talk, feed himself, wash himself.’


‘Listen? Judge didn’t, nobody did,’ she said above the din of the arriving train. The stiff finger became a palm. ‘I’ve done listening.’

The bag floated in the air, and the scattered pork scratchings crunched under her feet as she walked away.

In the Air

“Found Poems” are composed using words or phrases from sources such as letters, and newspaper reports. This
 YouTube link is of Dr Katie Ailes reading her  brilliant found poem made from her mothers e-newsletters about a journey she was making across USA

 Poetry’s not my forte, so I’ve used song lyrics to create a “Found”short story. Phil Collins said there was no meaning behind the lyrics of his song ‘In the Air Tonight’.

But what if there was?


‘I’ve been waiting for this,’ he said. ‘Tonight I can feel it. I can rub my fingers together and feel it. It’s in the air.’

The bindings burned as she slumped forward in the chair. She stared through the curtain of her hair at the man, watching the slow movement of his fingertips, then down at the splash marks of her tears on the grey concrete.

‘I wouldn’t lend you a hand, save you if you were drowning,’ he said.

She raised her head. ‘Why? Why are you doing this? You don’t know me.’

‘Oh, I do. My friend, I have seen your face before.’

‘I’m not your friend.’ He leaned closer, listening, as the drumming of the rain on the tin roof dulled her voice. ‘I don’t know you.’

 ‘I was there,’ he said. ‘Saw what you did.’

 ‘Saw what? Please… what do you want?’

‘Saw it with my two eyes.’

‘What? What did you see?’

He clutched a handful of hair, lifting her head. ‘Stop grinning!’

‘I’m not… I’m not grinning. Please, tell me what you want.’

‘The truth.’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Well, I do! How could I forget?’

‘When… when did this happen?’

‘When we met. The first time, the last time we met.’

He released her hair and her head fell forward. ‘I can’t remember.’

‘I know why you’re keeping silent. I know.’

‘I’m silent because I don’t know… I don’t.’

‘You don’t fool me, Martha.’

‘I’ve told you I’m not Martha,’ Beth said, her voice a breath. ‘What have I done to you?’

‘What you did hurt me. It doesn’t show, but the pain, over these years the pain’s grown. Pain that’s no stranger to me, or to you, now.’

The jangling rush of a passing freight train drowned Beth’s long scream, reverberating in the shed.

Rich Pickings

Gerald had no idea Ritchie had just been released from prison. Ritchie didn’t mention it when they met on the High Street, which meandered through the town down to the docks. Instead he just said, Gerry, mate! It’s you, isn’t it?
Gerald, turning from the bookshop window, squinted in the sunlight. He hadn’t seen Ritchie since they left university. They weren’t mates then, and he didn’t feel the love now. He pasted a quick smile on and said, Hi Ritchie, long time no see!. The son of a village pub owner, he had been trained in the art of faux bonhomie.
Twelve years. I hear you work on a cruise liner?
Gerald raised an eyebrows like a surprised question mark. Who told you that?
Someone, said Ritchie, forefinger tapping the side of his nose. You’re a croupier? Too many graduates with math degrees, I suppose.
My dad? Gerald asked, his eyes slits. He’s the ‘someone’?
Ritchie grinned. Yeah. Dropped in at his pub the other day.
So, what are you up to? You won’t have found it easy.
Ritchie’s face darkened. You mean being chucked out of uni? The stolen money? It was a misunderstanding. Listen, let’s have a drink and you can tell me about cruising.
Draining his fourth pint, Gerald thought Ritchie better company than expected: a bit of a lad but a laugh. Gerald enjoyed life working on a cruise ship, didn’t need coaxing to talk. He talked about the crew, the wealthy passengers, and the places he’d visited: Miami, the Bahamas, Rio, Buenos Aires, Cape Town —
Wow, Gerry! Me? I’ve only been to Magaluf and Benidorm, said Ritchie. You know this cruise ship of yours —
Snot mine, Gerald said slurring his words. Wish it wash.
Ritchie laughed. Yeah, right? They got any jobs? I’ve got experience in catering. In the Public Sector. Public Sector? Gerald repeated, not hearing the echo of Ritchie’s laugh descend deep into his chest. Government canteens, restaurants, explained Ritchie, skipping over it was in Wormwood Scrubs kitchens, where he had learned the tricks of the trade.
With Covid, they’re short of staff, said Gerald. I’ll introduce you to the Purser.


You bastard, Ritchie! Gerald shouted. You thieving bastard!
It was two weeks into the cruise and, approaching the next port of call, the Table Mountain was on the horizon. Or would have been if the bank of fog had not rolled in. Gerald had entered the cabin unannounced to see jewellery spilled from a bag, sparkling on the bedcover. Ritchie turned from examining a necklace, one Gerald had seen a punter wearing at the roulette table.
Come on Gerry. Rich people can afford to lose this stuff, said Ritchie his face contorted, not quite contrite. It’s all insured.
Its still theft! Gerald said. Snatching the bag, he scooped the loot into it, and thrust it under his jacket and stared into Richie’s eyes. I’m going to give this to the Purser. Slamming the door, he turned the key and sagged against the corridor wall, listening to the drum beat of fists on the door.
What happen next was a jumble in his mind: a tremendous clang like a bell; being thrown across the corridor; a wailing siren; the crew rushing to emergency stations like a tidal wave sweeping him along.

From the lifeboat Gerald stared at the container ship, its bow crumpled, ghostly in the retreating fog, and the cruise liner sinking into the grey sea. He knew some passengers from the casino: the retired teacher who enjoyed a modest punt; the footballer and his WAG, and the car dealer’s wife sat opposite. He felt the stab of her jewellery in his ribs. Maybe Ritchie was right. She could afford to lose what was worth a couple of years of his wages. As if conjured by this thought his mobile vibrated in his pocket.
What’s happening, mate? Ritchie said in his ear, his voice urgent. Please let me out… waters pissing in the porthole! Unlock the —
Dropping the phone over the side, Gerald beamed a reassuring smile at the car dealer’s wife..

Not that Bradford

‘Say that again, Darren.’ Sheena switched her mobile to her other ear, as if what her youngest son had said would alter. ‘No, don’t, just don’t. I heard the first time. You’re saying you’ve lost Kevin. Where?’


‘Oh, right. Schiphol. The airport at Amsterdam.’

‘You think? What do you mean “you think”? Is he on a flight to New York or not?’

‘Someone saw him? How did they know it was him? He’s hardly Tom Cruise.’

‘Batman? He’s dressed as Batman?’

‘Oh, I see. Fancy dress. Has he been sniffing?‘

‘He has? Bloody hell, Darren. You were supposed to keep your brother clean.’

‘Okay, okay. Yes, I know you can’t stand in a cubicle with him. Yes, I’ll let you know if he calls.’

Sheena laid her mobile face down on the table and glanced at her husband. ‘You heard all that? They’ve gone and lost Kevin. Vanished from the bar when they were waiting to board. Drunk, and high as a kite.’
Bernard looked over the rim of his cup. ‘I won’t say “I told you so”—‘
‘But you will.’
‘Well, Love. A stag-do, just days before a wedding? Leaves no time to sort this sort of thing out, does it?’
‘I just knew it would go tits-up. He’s still using. A stag weekend in Amsterdam? It’s like taking an alci to a beer festival.’
‘What was that about Batman?’
‘It’s like a theme, you know, Superheroes. Kevin’s dressed as Batman. Darren’s Robin.’
A teaspoon rattled in a saucer as Sheena’s mobile danced on the Formica tabletop. She snatched it up, cutting off the Mamma Mia ringtone.
‘Kevin? Thank God! You do know you’re getting married this afternoon?’

‘No, we haven’t told Chantelle. Where are you?’

‘A café in Bradford Airport? Right, stay where you are. Your dad’ll pick you —‘

‘What do you mean “not that Bradford”?’



Voyage into the Past

A faded image. A fragile memory.
A cobbled raft of rope bound
planks and metal drums.
With sun-warmed backs
and brine-glazed skin
my brother and I, pretend
pirate or conquistadors,
sail across imagined oceans.
Standing at the shoreline
Our father, camera to eye,
captures our boyhood moment.
Preserves this memory for us.

Travel-weary ancient mariners
we have washed up here,
this beach of memories. Stand
listening to faint echoes of the past.
Voices, laughter, the shutters click.
Then silence as our familial shades
watch us walk away, our shadows
long and dark, consuming us.


A sweeping arc of human flotsam
entwined with leavings of nature
abandoned by the ebbing sea.
The immutable, the perishable.

A vivid tapestry of nylon netting,
orange, blue, green. A corked
ocean bottle bearing tidings
of past victories, or defeats.
A plastic bottle, a portent
of future unseen catastrophes
Fragile shells, carapace of crab.
Sea scoured root and branch
washed from African shores
Feathered wing, storm-ripped
on a futile sea crossing.

The immutable, the perishable.
The pulse line of a dying planet.


Death By Chocolate

Baron Feldmann’s skill as a chocolatier was not common knowledge, but amongst the aristocracy, he was renowned. It was, of course, not a trade of manufacture and sale, but a pastime. No society dinner party was complete without a box of his exquisite confections, and though he existed in the lower echelons of nobility, the Baron’s attendance at such soirees was almost obligatory: no Baron, no chocolates.

This access to social functions attended by the good and the great made the Baron a convenient assassin.
Sitting at his desk he decoded the couriered instruction: a name, a flavour. He watched flames consume the flimsy paper in the ashtray, and smiled.
Me? I am merely an observer, a spy dressed in servant’s livery, who will report back to my masters that the Countess Petrov’s flame has been extinguished. The elegant dining room has brimmed with the chink of cutlery on fine china and gossip, as the twelve guests around the small oval table enjoy a convivial evening. The meal now complete, I give the Baron a servile bow and hand him the chocolate box, which is as elaborate as the confections within, each in a twist of coloured foil denoting the flavour. The Countess, sat next to Baron Feldmann, gives a dull clap of gloved hands.
‘How delightful!’ she cries.
Stagily he peels away the pretty wrappings and opens the box. The Countess eyes the contents hungrily, but the Baron must offer it to the guest on his left, a person of Royal birth, and therefore of far greater importance than the Countess on his right.
I follow the anti-clockwise handing of the box. Those present know the Countess prefers the chocolate with the orange filling and fortuitously, or perhaps purposely, it is passed over by the other diners.
Why fortuitous? Within the orange cream filling resides a slow-acting poison, its tangy taste indistinguishable from that of the fruit of Seville. The Countess will leave the Château feeling in fine fettle, but later, when the coachman opens the carriage door, he will find her sprawled lifeless.
Ah, I see the box has arrived in the delicate hands of the Countess. Her eyes flick between the faces of her fellow guests and the remaining two chocolates.
‘The Seville orange remains, my Lady,’ the Baron says in an alluring tone
‘Perhaps My Lord, but tonight I do believe I will have the lime flavour,’ she says, plucking the chocolate from the box.
Standing dutifully by the window, I note the pallor of the Baron’s face. He has no option but to select and consume the poisoned chocolate. Savouring the lime cream filling the Countess casts him the smile of one who has circumvented his scheme.
Later, walking down the corridor towards the stable yard I hear the Baron retching in the privy as he purges himself of the toxin.

The Singing Bowl

Bodashka had been crossing the Plaza when the first salvo of shells arrived, shrieking through the air to explode amongst the people running for shelter. Left standing on his own, and deafened by the reverberating noise, he sprinted up the shallow steps and into the tall shadowy entrance of the museum. Inside, he skidded on the smooth marble floor to fall behind the stone sarcophagus displayed in the main hall. In the thrumming silence he watched shards of glass tumble, sparkling in the air, and fragments of stone ricochet off the walls. His only sign that more shells had fallen.
Near to him a tall display case soundlessly disintegrated, the glass falling to splinter like sheets of thin ice. Porcelain vases, ceramic bowls, delicate figurines slid from shelves to shatter on the floor, and a brass bowl bounced and spun: a golden orb in the gloom.
The bowl settled, and a wooden baton rolled to rest against his hand. On a school visit last year his class, sitting cross-legged in a circle, watched a curator use the baton to make the bowl sing. The old man had said it was a Tibetan Singing Bowl.
Bodashka picked up the baton and tapped the side of the bowl. It chimed, the shimmering note penetrating his dulled hearing. As the sound faded, a man appeared, his orange robe vivid in the billowing white dust and flecks of snow blowing in through the windows. Bodashka cowered in fright at the wraith-like figure.
The monk smiled down at him. ‘Every century, the bowl grants three wishes. Life, wealth, and death.’
Bodashka thought of the dead sprawled in the plaza. ‘May I give someone life…?’
‘The life wish was spent many years ago. Wealth too, I’m afraid… you recall the curator Shevchenko and his change in fortunes? You may wish a death. Who do you wish to die?’
The Buddhist monk bent to listen to Bodashka whispering his request.
‘A wise choice.’
Bodashka felt his hand move. The baton slid around the rim of the bowl in slow circles, creating a sound which resonated in his head. Above the mesmerising tone, he could hear the monk chant. The room shifted and dissolved…
Reading documents in his enormous bed, the man heard the strange undulating, almost hypnotic cadences. His hard eyes flitted around the opulent room, seeking the source. There was a shimmer in the air at the end of his bed and he stared in disbelief as a tall man in an orange cloak appeared standing next to a grubby urchin holding a bowl.
He drew his pistol from beneath the soft down pillows. ‘Guards! Intruders!’ he screamed.
Two men in uniform threw the doors wide, the muzzles of their machine guns following the sweep of their eyes. Pulling the curtains apart, one guard glanced at the other, and shrugged.
The guard standing behind the smiling monk looked into the dark eyes. ‘There is nobody here, your Excellency!’
‘There, you imbecile!’ Putin fired at the apparition, the boom echoing in the room.
The soldier crumpled to his knees. In his spasm of death, his trigger finger tightened, and his machine gun spat an arc of bullets across the room. Still gripping the drapes, his comrade stared at the bloodstains on the President’s white nightshirt: pink blossoms in a cloud of duck down. The noise of the gunfire died, and he heard the urgent drum of running feet in the corridor.
Bodashka saw the wreckage of the museum take shape and solidify. Saw the filth of war: ash, charred window frames; ruined display cases; shattered china and glass littering the floor. He realised there was an absence of noise, a sense of peace.
‘Now I must leave you.’
‘Yes, Bodashka, you have a question?’
‘Mr Shevchenko. He told us Buddhists do not kill.’
‘Did I kill anyone, Bodashka?‘



Ramón stared towards the Laguna Rosa, where the flamingos dipped their heads into the lagoon for the shrimps which would tint their feathers pink. The colour of the lagoon reminded him of the water in the enamelled basin, the médico had squeezed his cloth in, as he cleaned his wounds. Ramón removed his spectacles, held them on his lap,  and closed his eyes.

‘Mamá, Josefina and I walked from our home to the market. Little Josefina, trying to look important, carried a woven basket over her arm, and I clutched a toy car Papa made. It was a late April afternoon. The sky was cloudless, a delicate blue.’ Ramón released a soft laugh. ‘In Spain it always is, no?’

Seb remained silent, not wishing to interrupt the flow of his narrative.

‘A loud thrumming sound echoed around the street. Everyone looked around, expecting the approach of a vehicle, a large truck or some such thing. Then following in the noise’s wake: Bang! Boom!… Bang! Now everyone is looking into the sky. Of course, I saw nothing. I was a small child hemmed in by the legs of the adults. My abiding memory of that moment is the smell of oranges.’


‘Yes, oranges. A bomb exploded nearby. The surrounding air quivered, and I felt the ground tremble under me. Mamá, holding Josefina close to her breast, turned away, and I hid behind the thin fabric of her skirt. The noise was dreadful: thunderclaps; screams; shouts. Dust and grit and slivers of glass rushed between legs to sting and cut skin. A woman nearer to the blast, her face a mask of blood, floundered, upending the merchant’s table. With wide eyes, I watched as oranges cascaded to the ground. They bounced and rolled through the shadows and the segments of bright sunlight, until crushed to pulp under the espadrilles of the scattering people. Mamá, with Josefina still in her arms, grabbed my wrist and we ran into a passageway where we crouched against the stone wall. Mamá muttered prayers to the Virgin Mary. Pressed into me she smelled of…’

The words trailed away as Ramón sucked in a deep breath. Seb reached through the silent void to touch his grandfather’s hand. He cleared his throat and continued in a whisper.

‘Huddled in that dark passageway, I could smell the soap on Mamá’s skin and in her hair. It was strange, amid the stench of smoke, of fire, of cordite, to smell lavender. Soon, the bombing seemed more distant and Mamá decided we would leave our shelter to return home. She explained how we would cross the wide boulevard, run past the wreckage of the market stalls, the bodies, and the splintered trees, and into the narrow street opposite. Holding Josefina with one hand and me with the other, she led us across the rubble and glass strewn road. In the hazy sky, I could see the grey cruciforms of the sluggish bombers. Then a darker, more threatening shape flitted through the swirling smoke. The menacing roar was so loud! I heard my mother scream we must run. Even now I hear her voice,  “¡Rápido!…¡Rápido!” Then … then my precious toy car slipped from my fingers…’

Hearing his grandfather falter, Seb pressed the fingertips of one hand against his forehead, his stomach clenched with the fear of knowing.

‘All that cold night I sat in the narrow passage, our sanctuary from the bombs, staring at the tattered remains of my mother and my sister in the middle of the road. Watching the hem of Mamá’s dress flutter in the breeze, I relived the moment I pulled my hand from my mother’s grasp: running back to pick up my toy; Mamá stopping, shouting; a dragon spitting fire; the heavy chatter of machine guns; violent puffs of dust stalking along the road towards Mamá and Josefina. I was left standing, listening as silence swallowed the dying sound of the departing Messerschmitt, the jubilant pilot dipping its wings.’