The Ticking of the Clocks

The only constant in his life has been the ticking of the clocks: First the mighty grandfather clock that stood at the foot of his crib like a sentry; then the gilt-edged pocket watch he was given as a boy before being sent to the country as a refugee. He remembered even now the thrill of that transaction as his father dropped the watch into his right hand, closed his fingers over it one by one and smiled. “Look after it,” he had said, ruffling his son’s hair and closing the door of the train as the engine creaked into life. That was the last time Bobby had seen his father. He was seven years old.

Now seventy seven, Bobby lies in a starched hospital bed. His eyes are closed, his breathing ragged. They have sedated him, they tell his worried family – son, Thomas, daughter in law Serina and beloved grandson, Jack. He has had a stroke and suffered serious paralysis and possible brain damage. “Don’t climb up there, darling,” says Serina to her son. Her voice, normally calm, is shrill. “But I want to see Granpa,” says Jack, ignoring his mother and climbing up onto the bed. He takes the old man’s veiny hand in his and squeezes.

Jack is seven, an inquisitive child with an aptitude for art and a love of reading. His sensitivity will serve him well in life, and he will one day become a celebrated artist. But for now he is just seven, sitting on a bed with his dying grandfather, listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall – waiting for something to happen. And then something does happen. Jack must have closed his eyes for a moment because when he opens them again he is standing on a dark landing with his grandfather. Bobby says nothing but points towards a big clock twice the size of Jack that stands at the end of the corridor. He looks down at his grandson and smiles, and Jack has the feeling everything is going to be okay.

The landing begins to shift and Jack feels himself being pulled away from his grandfather, back to the bright lights of the hospital room where his mother and father are waiting. The grandfather clock strikes seven times and Jack opens his eyes. He knows Bobby has gone but he looks peaceful, as if he is asleep. Jack climbs down from the bed and notices a feeling of heaviness in his pocket that wasn’t there before. He reaches a hand inside and pulls out a gilt-edged pocket watch. He smiles.

Halloween Story

In the half light of the full moon crawls a boy. The undergrowth through which he makes his way is simultaneously his protector and attacker, shielding him from view and yet inflicting countless wounds upon his bony limbs; a dichotomy of nature. From time to time he stops and sniffs the air, then presses his nose into the damp earth like a dog tracking a scent. His hair, matted with juice of berries he has harvested for food, is festooned with unintentional regularity by twigs and tiny insects.

Even the most untrained eye would see the boy is feral. His skin is worn like leather that has spent a decade in the sun. His eyes, black like ravens’, reveal the true nature of the instinct by which he is governed. His movements are not clumsy as one might expect from a boy of his age – Six? Seven? Surely not more – but rather fluid and considered, swift and exact.

Devoid of anything resembling human emotion, the boy follows his senses to survive. He scavenges, preys on the weak. He creeps into the homes of unsuspecting householders and steals their food. He watches their children as they sleep, in silent and uncomprehending curiosity.

He was human, once, a long time ago. He is not human anymore.

Man’s best friend

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When the alarm clock beeped Maurice groaned his customary groan and stretched out like a tiger waking from a snooze. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and blinked several times. Then, with a whoosh of excitement that coursed from the top of his head to the tip of his toes he remembered: Today was his eighth birthday.

He leapt out of bed and ran out of the room and all the way down the stairs into the kitchen. There he found his mother, his father and his baby brother Teddy sitting at the breakfast table waiting for him.
“Happy Birthday Maurice,” his parents said in unison. Teddy just grinned and waved his rattle. “Here,” said his mother, “sit down and I’ll make you a special breakfast before school. Eggs and bacon okay?”
Maurice beamed and nodded as he took his seat at the head of the table where, he couldn’t help but notice, there sat a large box with a ribbon on it. His father smiled and nodded so he ripped off the paper and shouted “yes!” and punched the air when he saw it was the remote controlled rally car he’d been wanting for ages. “Can I take it to school?” he asked,but his father shook his head. “I think it’s best kept safe at home for the moment,” he said.
Maurice kicked his chair under the table in silent protest, but was soon distracted by the plate of fried breakfast his mother had put in front of him. She sat down beside him, pulled her purse out of her bag and fished a shiny pound coin out of its depths. “Here you go,” she said, handing the coin to Maurice, “I know we normally say no sweets at school but as it’s your birthday why don’t you pick up a little treat from the shop at break time.”

As his mother had suggested, Maurice went to the shop around the corner from school during his lunch hour. When he arrived there was a little dog tethered outside. Maurice didn’t know much about dogs but he thought this was what his father would call a Scottie dog-a Scottish Terrier with charcoal grey fur, a long body, short little legs and ears that looked too big for its head.
As Maurice bent down to pat the dog the shop door opened and an old lady came out. She was wearing a thick wool coat even though it was warm outside and she had a scarf wrapped around her head like a turban. The skin on her face was baggy, like it was too big for the bones and sinew underneath, and she had drawn thick black lines around her eyes.
Maurice stood up and the old lady smiled. “Oh don’t mind me dear,” she said, “Colin loves the attention.” Maurice knew it was rude to stare but he couldn’t take his eyes off the old lady. “Colin?” he repeated? “Yes,” the lady said, “it’s a silly name for a dog I know but it was my husband’s name, you see.”
The old lady stopped to cough, and Maurice noted with alarm that when she pulled her tissue away from her face there were spots of what looked like blood on it. “Are you alright?” he asked. The old lady straightened herself up as best she could and forced her withered lips into a thin smile. “Yes,” she said, “I’m fine, thank you,” though Maurice was far from convinced. “What brings you here, anyway?” She asked. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
Maurice grinned and pulled the coin from his pocket. “It’s my birthday,” he said proudly. “I’m eight years old today and so my mum gave me this to buy sweets.” The old lady coughed again and winced in pain. “That’s nice,” she said. Her breath was shallower now and Maurice was scared. What should he do? Call the shop owner? Call an ambulance?
As he was thinking trough his options the old lady pulled a small black coin purse from her pocket and began to root around in it. “Drat,” she said, coughing again. “I’m a pound short.” “For what?” Maurice asked. “For a taxi to…it doesn’t matter.” Maurice looked at the pound coin in his hand, hesitated, then held it out on his palm.
The old woman smiled through her obvious pain and took the coin. “That’s very kind of you little boy,” she said, “what’s your name?” Maurice, who had been told never to tell strangers his name, replied without hesitation, “Maurice Brown.” “And you go to the school next door?” He nodded. “Well Maurice,” the old lady said, “I promise to repay you for your kindness today. Though it may be in a different way to that which you might expect.”
Before Maurice could ask what she meant she had flagged down an approaching taxi and climbed unsteadily into it, coughing and wheezing all the while. Colin jumped in after her and she shut the door and drove off. Maurice returned to school empty handed.
That evening, after his birthday dinner there was a knock on the front door. When Maurice’s father came back into the room he was carrying a large box. “Another present?” Maurice asked. “From who?”
His father put the box down onto the table with great care and handed Maurice an envelope with MAURICE BROWN written on the front in thick marker pen. Inside there was a piece of paper, upon which was written:
Dear Maurice, if you’re reading this it means I’ve gone to a better place, so please don’t be sad for me. When we met today I could tell you were a special little boy. In return for your kindness I would like to offer you first refusal on this gift. I hope you will love and care for it as I have, and that it will bring you great happiness. God bless you, Annie (the old lady outside the shop).
Maurice put the note down and stared at the box, and as he did a scratching noise from inside made him jump. Suddenly he knew what was inside, and began tearing at the wrapping. He opened the box and, sure enough, inside it sat Colin the Scottie dog. When he saw Maurice he jumped up and licked his face, making everyone laugh.
“Can we keep him Dad?” Maurice asked. His dad looked at his mum, and his mum looked back to him. “How could we say no?” she said with a smile. “We’re so proud of what you did today Maurice.” Maurice beamed back at her. “This is the best birthday ever,” he said, and Colin barked his agreement.

The Stowaway

Silently he creeps up the gangplank and onto the deck. He circumnavigates the hull, darting behind heavy wooden crates covered in nets that reek of fish guts to avoid being seen by the crew. 

 
He knows not how long he’s been crouching there; long enough to lose sensation in his knees and start to wonder if he’s doing the right thing. He shakes the thought off like a dog shaking its fur after a swim. He thinks of Benjy, lying by the fire, his wet nose resting on his mottled brown paws. His stomach clenches from both homesickness and hunger but he doesn’t falter. He’s made his choice and he must suffer the consequences. He is now a soldier of the sea.
 
The activity on the deck is building. Men in smart naval uniforms are boarding the ship, lost in important-looking conversation as porters carry their belongings in heavy trunks.The sailors set to work on the rigging, climbing up to the mast head with dexterity and ease, their sinewy bodies glistening with sweat and salt.
 
Not long now until his maritime adventure will begin. He wonders briefly whether he’ll be missed, if it will occur to his family that he’s set off on a voyage across the seas. He knows he might see pirates and vagabonds; he knows he must be brave.
 
“Hoist the main sail!” A cry from the captain. “Wait!” A second voice, much closer than the first. “What’s this we have here….?” The tarpaulin shifts and light spills through into his hidey hole. But it’s not the Captain’s face he sees. He blinks. “What the…?”
 
“Oscar!” His mother’s face looms large above him. “What are you doing? Come down for your tea!”
 
Oh well, he thinks as he disentangles himself from his blanket (formerly the main sail), there’s always next time…