Out There

Roy stood on  a large slippery moss covered boulder and looked at the raging river water threatening to splash against his hiking boots and pants. He could see nothing below the foaming white tops and dark blue rapids. He rose his head and took in the scene before him, his eyes and mind still not able to fully take in the magical beauty that surrounded him.

A gentle wind was blowing the early morning mist through the tops of the pine trees, making the landscape before him seem taller then it actually was. Roy could just make out the faint outline of the rising cliffs he had climbed through yesterday as they shadowed out of the low grey clouds.

Roy bent down and dipped his first canteen below the waves. His skin pricked at the cold water’s touch before growing use to it once more. Raising the leather bottle out again, he screwed on the lid and grabbed for his second. A low growling brushed his ears and he froze.

Ever so slowly, Roy eased his head up to looked. Directly across from him, having appeared out of the too close pine trees and scrub was a brown mother bear and her cub. Roy’s breath caught and his heart skipped a beat. The bear was large, but looking thin and her coat was damp with the dew and brush off from the leaves. Her cub couldn’t have been older the two months, he was tiny yet looked identical to her as he nestled against her front leg.

Roy gradually lowed himself to the floor. A few times he paused to stop the rattling of the three canteens at his side and pull up the straps on his shoulder. He felt the splatter of water against him and was thankful for his water proofs. He felt the hard stone against his knees then risked another look up.

The mother bear was still there, watching and judging him, deciding if he was a threat or not. Her cub was yowling, his voice carrying even above the sounds of the raging river. He clearly was not happy to stand still for long.

Roy looked away again, trying to keep his breathing steady and the eddies of panic in his stomach down. A part of him desperately wanted to flee and he weighed up the option of doing that carefully. Would the river make her think twice about chasing me?  It wouldn’t stop her if she decided to. Her cub would be swept away though, there’s no way he’d make it through there. No. It’s best just to stay and wait. If I don’t move, she’ll know I’m no threat. She probably only came down for a drink. The water looks too rough for fishing.

Roy flowed the cresting waves over to the rocky shore and saw the massive claws and paws of the mother bear. The cub was skittering around, playing with the loose stones he was now kicking up. The mother started to move, her black nose sniffing the air greedily. She reached the water’s edge and her cub charged up beside her and almost into the water. The shock of cold against his face brought him to a halt and cried wildly out then snuggled into her leg.

A small smile curled on to Roy’s lips and he wished he had his camera to hand. It was back with his tent and other gear on the grassy nook he had set camp up on last night. He had feeling though, this would stay in his memory a long time. Without warning, the mother bear turned away and began lumbering up the rocky shore. Her cub scrambled after her, crying his dismay loudly.

Roy finally took a deep enough breathe the fill his lungs completely. He stretched his stiff and now aching limbs as he stood. His eyes tracked across the river and he saw the fleeting end of the bears. He took another few breathes, feeling himself becoming totally calm again.

He turned and got halfway back up the boulders when he he suddenly remembered what had been doing. He turned back again and hurried down to the river, his canteens rattling loudly at his side.

Garden Party

Summer, Still-Life, Pitcher, Garden

Today seemed like a day when everything should have been perfect. The sun was blazing in one of those too blue romantic skies and there was a playfully teasing warm breeze. The urge to just get outside and soak it all in consumed me.

And that was when everything went wrong. I feel out of the bed, bashing my knees on the harsh carpet and after shaking that off, I slipped in the shower. My legs now red and slightly bruised, I ended up putting on crop jeans instead of my new sexy mini skirt. Taming my wild curling brown hair into an up do that some how made it looked like I didn’t care, followed.

Breakfast was another episode; the crumbly remains of cereal at the bottom of the box, gone off milk and a dirty spoon. Abandoning that, I got a breakfast snack bar and a glass of water and went outside in the garden. Hot yellow light poured over me, making me feel better. I sat on a very abandoned and lonely looking wooden deck chair in the middle of the lawn. Which thankfully, didn’t collapse on me, but groaned so much like my old great grandma, that I give up on it as soon as I had finished and went back inside.

Having no plans for this Sunday and caught by the unexpected weather, I decided to see who’d be up for a garden party. That was like my fourth fail of the morning. I selected a few people on my phone and sent them texts then whilst waiting excitedly, went through my friend lists online. I typed a few messages to people, a couple of friends I’d not seen in ages, an old ex, who I was still sort of in connect with, my hairdresser….Okay, that was an accident, but still, it didn’t matter.

Phone still in hand, I called up the note page and began listing things I’d need to do and buy. My mind hummed with this picture of a classy Sunday evening party. The men all around the small bbq, drinking beer and eyeing up the cooking food. The women clinking flute wine glasses, helping to bring out the salad and bread. The table! A huge wooden bench with a nice patterned cloth and center piece of flowers in a vase.

My phone beeped a texted and I picked it up. My ex had replied. Sorry, got a date tonight.  My heart fluttered then sank. A date?

With who? I texted back without even thinking.

You don’t know her. Meet online.

The words burned before me. I placed my phone down and wondered if it was too early to have a little drink. Shaking that idea away, I got another glass of water instead and thought about seeing if any of my neighbors were interested in coming over. Of course, I’d need to go and see them about borrowing some chairs anyway.

Getting  up, I noticed my black cat pad into the room back from his night time escapades. He meowed then jumped on the sunny window sill and watched the birds darting about the tree. Ignoring him too, I went into the hallway and slipped on my shoes. Going out, I tripped on the door frame and windmilled outside. Somehow steadying myself, I looked back trying to figure out what had happened.

Toeing the door frame, I pulled the door to and called on my first neighbor on the right. Rattling the gate, I saw her car was missing and wondered if she had taken her kids somewhere. Knocking on the door, my mind cast back and I wondered if a newly singled mother of three kids would want to come to my garden party. I hadn’t really tallied kids in….

No one answered the door. Turning, a tried the door next down, feeling more gigged as the whole street knew that a party loving girl lived there. I rang the door bell and waited. And waited. Finally, a bleary eyed, heavily beard and very naked man opened the door.

‘Yeah?’

‘Is Connie in?’ I asked, trying to look around him or anywhere else for that matter.

‘In the shower.’

‘Well…er…I’m having a small party later and I was wondering if I could borrow some garden chairs? I’ll call back later.’

I backed up, waved a little and scampered off.

With my cheeks still red, I made my way down the other side of the street with little luck. Going back home, I checked my phone and found a few people had replied with yes and two more had said they couldn’t make it. More notice next time, please. One had even added.

Pulling a face, I decided to go out and get some food. That would surely clear my head of Mr. Naked Beard Face. Grabbing my things, I head out and jump in my little car. It takes a few moments for the engine to start up, but then I’m off and stuck in traffic.

Staring out of the windscreen, I look at the long line of cars facing both ways. What’s happened? Some kind of emergency? Knowing, I’ll probably never know, I join the queue and make it twenty minutes to a normally five minute drive. The supermarket car park is packed too. Nabbing a space, which turns out to be a mother and baby, I jump out and hurry in before anyone notices my lack of child.

Cooling fans greet me with their whirling breeze and after collecting a trolley, I’m off in a mad cyclone of people and food. Did everyone decided to suddenly come here?  I grit my teeth at a screaming child and snatch up some chicken wings from under an old man’s nose. I throw in some burgers, sausages, chicken kebabs – which there’s never enough to go around of. Then I get some chicken drumsticks before remembering a vegan is coming. Sighing, I wonder into the fruit and veg and select a few things. How come a picky eater decided to come? What can I offer her?

I get some rice and a few other things, then hit the party section. They don’t have any pretty cloth table covers, but there’s plates and cups and cutlery. Loading those in, I avoid some chatting mothers, who are letting their kids play with balls in the toy section and make my way to the drinks. There’s too much choice. But I get some white wine and red, some mixers and some beer. Did I asked people to bring stuff?

I pull out my phone and check. Nope. Listing everyone up again, I send messages to that request and go to the tills.

‘Having a party?’ the depressed teenage girl behind the desk asks me.

‘Just a small one,’ I reply.

‘Looks like everyone else is too….’

‘The weather’s nice,’ I blurt and began packing.

‘I guess so…’

She fixes me with dark, having-seen-too-much eyes and scans my items. I hurry away, still feeling her gaze on me. I load the car and get in, having clocked someone waiting for my parking space crawling up. It’s too hot inside, so I opened the windows then sit off. Arriving home again, my cat is still on the window sill and if it wasn’t for his gently breathing, he’d be mistaken for being dead.

Getting sorted and ferrying everything from car to kitchen. I go into the living room and pick him up. He’s still alive and he gives me that look of oh my god did you just awake me? What are you thinking? What do you want? He tries to claw at me, but I carry him into the kitchen and place him outside. He sits looking rejected before trotting off.

I spend the rest of the day preparing and answering any messages that come through. Finally, everything is ready to go and someone knocks on the door. I hurry to answer it and find my neighbor Connie and Mr Naked Beard Face waiting for me.

‘Hi. Ken said you needed some chairs?’ Connie opens with.

I nodded, ‘I’m having a garden party.’

‘I could only spare four,’ she said pointing them out.

Ken is stood next to the stack of them, avoiding my eyes. Clearly he remembers what happened this morning.

‘That’s fine. Do you want to come in?’ I ask.

‘Sure, but we can’t stay long….’

I welcome them in and Connie directs Ken into the back garden.

A few moments later, some else arrives and the flow of people keeps coming. In my head, I begin to count and something tells me I didn’t invite this many…Wait, do I even know that guy with the Bon Jovi t-shirt?

I stare, trying to figure him out then someone taps me on the elbow and asks about food. As normal, some of the men have taken it upon themselves to show off their inner caveman and have got the bbq under way. It doesn’t take long to direct people to things then I’m back trying to find out more about my Bon Jovi fan interloper.

Checking all the rooms, I bump into Mr. Naked Beard Face coming out of the bathroom.

‘Sorry,’ I mumble.

‘About this morning…’ he starts.

‘No, it’s fine,’ I wave him away and check the bedrooms. No sign of interloper.

Out in the garden again the smell of smoking and cooking food hits me. I nibble at a muffin, eyeing my guests. Laughed rings in my ears and I turn to spot my hairdresser with Mr. B J Fan. Hurrying over, I butt into their conversation and get introduced to him as her boyfriend. Mystery solved.

Letting it go, I enjoy myself. The evening glows on and even though I didn’t get the picture perfect garden party I wanted, it seems to be going okay. Then of course the real partying breaks out and everyone seems to get drunk too fast. Loud music pours out my CD player, like a big finger pointing out the source of all noises. People sing and yell, someone starts throwing drinks about, there’s a queue for the bathroom. Midnight rocks up on the clock face and somehow I’m not drunk enough to come back to my senses and kick everyone out.

On the doorstep, Mr. Naked Beard Face, AKA Ken, turns to face me as Connie wobbles down the street clutching half a bottle of wine.

‘I’m sorry about this morning. I just got up and I didn’t think…’ he says.

‘It’s fine. It happens. You should go and help her,’ I nod over at Connie, who seems to have dropped her keys and is swearing loudly.

He stares at me, unsure about it then he turns and goes over to help her. I shoo the rest of the people out as taxis pull up and others do car shares with what I hope are sober drivers. I close the door and lean on it. My house smell of smoke, beer and sweaty bodies on a hot summer’s night.

I go into the living room, avoiding the mess and sink down onto the sofa. Someone has left their jacket on the arm chair and there’s a split cup of something pooling on the window sill. I shut my eyes. I drifted then the cat wakes me with a paw to my face. Hugging him, I take him upstairs and collapse on the bed, my dreams strangely full of necked beard men.

Sun

Sunset, Sun, Clouds, Dark Clouds

 

Paige got up from her desk, sliding her gaming headset off. Padding across her bedroom, she was careful to avoid the slice of sunlight on the floor. She pulled the curtains tighter together, not even bothering to look outside, even though the window was actually open. Sitting back at the desk, she put her headset on again and listened to the crackling of voices that belonged to the people she was playing an online game with.

For some reason, her thoughts drifted and she looked back at the curtains. The radio hadn’t lied today was the hottest day of the year so far. She imaged crowds of people flocking to the local parks and public gardens, fighting for the best picnic and sunbathing spots. Paige frowned and listened to children’s voices rising and falling, mixed with laughter and the sound of a ball hitting a wall. She sniffed, catching the smell of flowers, freshly cut grass and whiffs of smoke from BBQs.

Paige shook her head and turned back to her game. She had long let the outside world go by whilst she got on with her thing.

 

BBQ

Barbecue, Meat, Grill, Fire, Flame, Bbq, Charcoal, Food

There was just something about the first BBQ of the year, he decided.

Mud

Mud, Earth, Red, Nature, Rain, Winter

Watching Teddy, the chocolate Labrador, lying down in the large puddle, Amy recalled something her granddad had always said during their muddy walks together.

‘Mud, mud, glorious mud. There’s nothing like mud for cooling the blood of a vampire!’ Amy said loudly.

Teddy stopped covering himself in brown water and looked at her. He cocked his head, decided she wasn’t speaking to him and began lapping the water up.

‘Do you really have to drink that?’ Amy cried.

Teddy ignored her, but gave a wag of his tail to indicate he’d heard her. He splashed about in the puddle then got out and headed to the next one.

Amy shook her head and trailed after him. As he entered the next puddle, she didn’t stop but carried on walking along the pathway. Tall trees, just getting their new leaves back, seemed to crowd both sides and blocked the surrounding views of the woodland. Birds darted from branch to branch, singing to each other whilst grey squirrels scampered about.

The sound of rain caused Amy to stop and open her umbrella. Teddy bashed into her right leg then trotted proudly on. Tutting, Amy wipe at the small splattering of mud on her jeans then followed him again. Teddy spotted something and gave chase, nosily charging through the undergrowth.

Amy left him to it and let her mind drift back to her granddad. He had brought her up after her parents split and got with different people. She would have gone into care without him. Amy slowed her pace and walked along the edges of a wide puddle. She glanced back, wondering where Teddy was but at same time grateful he wasn’t rushing past her.

Moving on, she spotted the small farm attached to what had once been the estate manger’s house, back when the woods had been privately owned. Holding her umbrella against the now pouring rain, she decided to turn around and go home.

‘Teddy!’ she called.

Listening she heard a distant bark. Rolling her eyes, Amy retraced her footsteps and went back to where the dog had disappeared from. Teddy came bounding though the bushes and mud, tongue rolling out and looking like he was having a whale of a time.

‘It’s home time,’ Amy said.

Teddy ignored her and dived into the nearest puddle. He scooped the water up with his tongue then flung himself down. Some of the dirt washed off him, but as he stood up, Amy could see he was still covered in dripping mud.

‘Bath time for you,’ she added.

Wondering Writer

Writing, Writer, Notes, Pen, Notebook, Book, Girl

She had all these ideas in her head, but every time she tried to write them down they fled like small birds. Pressing her head against the trunk of the tree, she looked up at the chilly February sky. She had hoped that being outside and freezing her bottom off would have removed all the distractions, but the notebook resting on her knees was still empty.

Rubbing her numb fingers, she gripped the pen and wrote a to do list for tomorrow. It’s still writing, she thought, even if it’s not a story. Finishing, she then turned the page and looked around. The park was windswept and no one in their right mind was hanging around this evening.

She spotted an old bent over man walking a small dog. She watched him rounding a bench then heading away. Her mind turned and she wondered about him. What was his life like? What did his past hold? She tapped the page then taking a deep breath just began writing.

The old man could feel the wind biting at his bones. He huddled in his coat and tried to urge the small dog trailing behind him on. Shuffling to the bench, the old man looked with half blind eyes at the plaque nailed to the wood. He couldn’t read it, but he knew by heart the name and date etched into the metal. He let out a deep puff, but secretly inside he uttered a prayer. Tugging the dog on, he headed for the park’s exist and to the memories of what once had been.   

Kitty

It was cold and there was no warm place to go. The tiny black kitten stopped into a shop doorway and stood shivering. He didn’t understand what the icy, wet stuff falling around was. He only knew that it made everything white and made him feel worse. He meowed as loud as he could and listened, hoping that he would hear the reply of his mum. There was nothing but the sounds of city.

Over the last few days he had grown use to the sounds and begun to recognize them. The giants had loud voices, heavy footsteps and often had swinging plastic things attached to them. Some smelt good and others bad. He was afraid of them as he didn’t understand them. Maybe that was because the first time he had seen one of them, it had chased him and he had only escaped by crawling under the roaring, spewing, metal boxes. He had seen how the giants got in and made them move and then they got out of them. He avoided them at all coast, but sometimes they made warm sleeping places.

Some of the other sounds were made by a thing his mum had called wind. It was an invisible force that sneaked up behind you and tugged your fur. It made you feel cold and threw things in your face. It could also be very quiet and then very loud. The howling noises always scared him. He didn’t like this wind. There was that other thing, she mum had called rain. That was wet and cold, but not like the stuff falling now. The rain made noises too and the giants would huddle under things and move quickly. It made him move fast too.

He huddled in the corner, meowing and watching the stuff landing. Though it was very dark he wasn’t afraid, he only feared being alone. He dropped down, trying to keep warm in a ball and thought about what had happened. He could barely recall it now. There had been this inside, he thought it was called. It was dry and warm and the wet and cold couldn’t get you. There he was in a bed with his brothers and sisters all around him. His mum would come and go and she would smell of different things each time. There was a giant there only it was a quiet one and it didn’t move much and wasn’t loud. He remembered the flashing box in the corner and how it lit up in the dark. He was happy.

Then there was another bed, only it wasn’t, because it was hard and there was no mum any more. There was outside only then, where the cold and wet could get you and there was no place to escape it. Giants had come and taken away some of his brothers and sisters, he thought they would come for him too. Instead, some giants destroyed the bed and he went with his remaining brothers to find his mum. They had found places of food and some shelter, but somehow he had got lost.

It hurt to think about those things. He got up and walked on some more. There were lights not far down and he went towards a door. He looked in and saw giants sitting and eating. The air smelt good here, but he couldn’t go in there. A giant had caught him in a food place once and had kicked him. He had limbed away and avoided those places ever since.

He didn’t understand why the giants were so angry. What had he done to make them like that? He was just lost and looking for his mum. Why didn’t they understand that? He couldn’t stay by that door for very long. So he went on again.

The stuff was coming down even more now and he hated it. He was hungry, cold, wet and upset. He meowed and hoped for a reply. When nothing came he looked for a place to get warm and dry. There was a metal door coming down across the area the metal boxes used. Finding some speed, he darted over and squeezed inside. The giant didn’t see him. The space was small and ended in another door. but it was dry and warm enough for him. He curled up and went to sleep.

He dreamed of inside; a soft bed with warm, wiggling bodies next to him, his mum’s tongue washing him and he felt so good and full of milk. He purred in his sleep and become lost in those memories.

The sound of the metal door squeaking made him shot upwards. Sleep was still blurring around him, but had had sensed the danger. He prepared to jump out and run away, but a giant ducked under the moving door and saw him. The giant shouted. He tried to run past, but hands grabbed him. He cried out, and wildly pawed at the hand. He had yet to grow into his claws. The hand didn’t him go and he was brought up to the giant’s body. He couldn’t see.

He felt himself being taken somewhere. He didn’t understand and couldn’t because of the blinding panic shooting through him. He had to get away, far away. Who knew what the giants could do to him. He was put down and the light stung his eyes. He curled into a shaking ball. All around him was noise; the sound of the giants’ voices, the screaming of some wild bird and scuttling of claws. There were smells too that he’d didn’t know.

He looked up and around. He’d never dare go inside before, but he had seen through windows. This place had things stacked about and hanging down. There were other creatures too, watching from behind bars or windows. There was a bird in a large cage almost beside him. That screaming was coming from him. There were fluffy, long eared things and small hairy things and swimming, bright things.

The giants were saying something. Then one let the bird out and it flew around. Shocked, he forgot he should chase after it. Something tapped his back leg, he looked down and saw a bowl. There was food inside. He ate hungrily. Then more food came and he ate that too and then milk! He lapped that up and stared purring. He couldn’t remember a time he had felt fuller.

He was picked up and put in a bed. A bed just for him! It was small and soft and was enclosed. He felt heat along his back and curled up to sleep. He forgot what was around him. He forgot the giants and the screaming bird. He felt safe.

He woke later and yawed loudly. With sleepy eyes he looked outside. He saw half a giant and some boxes. He uncurled and stepped out. His paws tapped on the floor and the giant didn’t stop him. He sniffed around and picked up many new smells. Some even seemed tasty. He visited the creatures and watched them. Only some ran away and hide, the other stared back at him as if they too were trying to figure out what this strange being was in front of them.

A loud, high pitch sound hit his ears. Crying out, he ran back to the bed and buried himself inside it. The sound was stopped and he heard the giants’ voice. Slowly he looked out and saw the giant staring down at him. He was scooped up and placed high up. The giant started feeling him. Cool hands ran across his fur, feeling his bones. Eyes started into his own, his ears were tugged, his mouth was opened, his tail pulled up. He didn’t like this! He pawed at the hand and chased the fingers away. The giant let him go and then put something that had been attached to its head down.

Then he was rubbed and ticked under his chin. That he did like. He arched his back up and flicked his tail for more. It felt so good that he begin to purr. Maybe giants weren’t so bad? When the rubbing stopped, he meowed for more. A new sound came from the giant…a happy loud noise. He was put on the floor, were he rubbed his head against the giant’s leg. The foot twitched and worried he was going to get kicked again, he scrambled away.

He burrowed into his bed once more. But peering out, he only saw the giant watching him closely. A tinkling sound rang out and the giant turned away. There was a blazed of cold air and another entered. He watched them talking and stayed in the bed. When the other had left, he got out and wondered around again. The bird fluttered down and stared at him with massive eyes. He got scared, but didn’t shrink away. The bird made soft clicking noises and then flew away again. He watched it land on top of the bars.

He wanted more food. He scratched at the leg and the giant picked him. They went into another space and there he got food again. He was left alone then and had time to look around this new place. It was shinny and had water dripping. He had a drink from that. The tinkling rang out again and soon the giant appeared. He was picked up and placed in front of another. He was a little scared, but this giant seemed okay. Soft, warm hands stroked him whilst they talk. He purred and rub his head against the fingers. Then he was placed inside his bed and handed over.

Outside he was taken and he meowed loudly. He didn’t want to go outside again! What had he done? Why were they doing this? But instead he was placed in a metal box. Then the Giant got in and there was a roaring sound. He was thrown to the side and then back again. He curled into a ball, but his whole body was vibrating. He didn’t like this!

It soon stopped and the noise ended. The giant took him out. He felt cold wind and wet on his fur. He meowed again. Was he going outside now? He was too afraid to look out. He was shook about and then there was bang that made him jump. Warm, dry air hit him. He looked up and saw that he was inside. He was taken into a room and left on the floor. Then the giant came back and picked him up. He was taken to another room, much like the one he had eaten in before. He was place on top of some dry, smelling stuff…was this his new bed? It wasn’t soft!

He was left there for a long time and he dared not move. Then giant came and stood over him a number of times. He didn’t know what he was meant to do! He was then picked up again and placed beside a bowl of food. Though he still felt full from before, he started eating and the giant left him alone.

He wondered around and saw that this place was like the one he had been born into. It had soft things for the giants to sit on and a flashing box in the corner. There were things on the walls and a bumpy thing going way above him. He went back to his bed for a nap afterwards.

A squealing sound woke him up. He opened his eyes and saw the giant kneeling beside his bed. In her arms was a young giant, but her face was all squashed together and her eyes rolling about. He grew afraid, he didn’t like the look of this. The giant made the young sit down and then he was lifting from the bed. Held gently in one hand, he watched the giant guiding the young’s to stroke him.

At the feel of his fur, the young giggled and squealed again. The giant spoke softly and the hands came again. Then he was given over, placed in the young’s lap. He was scared of that face! He wanted to run but couldn’t. Hands touched him, gently, stroking him. They felt good. Maybe….maybe…the young meant him no harm….something was wrong with it though…but it seemed to understand and it didn’t want to hurt him.

He nuzzled the hand, asking for a chin rub. The young squirmed at the coldness of his nose and then laughed. She spoke and was replied too. He watched and then touched warm skin again. This time he got tickled under the chin. He started purring and knew that this was going to be his inside now.

Wood

Mr. Baxter had no choice but to cut the young trees down on the hill at the back of his garden. It was an idea his wife had been suggesting for the last few weeks, but Baxter had been trying to find another solution instead. This morning time had run out though and as his wife had left to drop the children off at school then go to her part time job, she had reminded him about their lack of fire wood again.

Out of options and armed with a small axe plus a pair of gardening gloves, for that was all he had, Baxter stepped out of the back door and avoiding the chicken coop, which give shelter to the three remaining chickens, strolled across his ragged looking lawn. The grass was littered with children’s toys of no real age or gender and many of the toys were broken and weather battered.  His back garden ran straight for twenty paces, then ended under a big oak tree with a crudely made wooden plank and chicken wire fence just before it.

Mr. Baxter struggled to climb over the boundary marker he had made with his own hands and cut off pieces from the chicken coop years ago. As he came to stand on the other side, he surveyed the quickly sloping hill and the row of houses that lay at the bottom. He couldn’t see very much through the wild tangle of bare tree and bush branches. However, he did spot a large and mean looking German Shepherd dog wondering around the neatly trimmed lawn of the garden to the left of him.

Hoping that the dog didn’t spot him and thus draw any human attention upon himself, Baxter selected the nearest young spruce, which for all he knew about trees could have been an endangered native species, and started to swing his axe at the trunk. Luckily, his swing was good, his axe blade sharp and the trunk thin, so after a few moments the tree fell. Smiling to himself, he rested the axe against a fence plank and dragged the tree up alongside it.

Sweat popped on his brow and caused his hands to go slick in the gloves. The tree became snagged on the branches of its companions and Baxter had to put all his energy into shifting it. With a final heave, he threw the small tree over the fence and into his back garden. He paused to catch his breath, for he was very over weight and had a back problem. Wiping his face and forehead, he selected another young tree and attacked it with the axe.

For the rest of the morning he carried on in the same vein, until his wife came home at lunch time and she came out to him with a cup of tea and half a fish paste sandwich. Handing him the cup and plate, she glanced at his hard work and nodded her head.

‘I fear it won’t last us though,’ she said quietly.

‘My benefit payment comes in on Thursday. I’ll try and get some more logs and coal then,’ he answered through a mouthful of sandwich, ‘this’ll be good for kindling though, so I won’t buy any of that.’

‘I’ll go down to the job centre tomorrow and see what else we can claim or if there’s any more jobs I can apply for,’ Mrs Baxter responded with sadness in her voice.

Baxter nodded, feeling he couldn’t say any more about their unfortunate situation.

‘Shall I help?’ his wife asked instead.

‘If you want too. I think I left the saw on the kitchen table.’

‘I noticed you had,’ she replied and left.

He finished off his sandwich and drank his warm tea in a few gulps, before turning back to the tree he had been cutting down. Leaving his things to the side he begin again and had chopped through the trunk just as wife returned. She helped him heave it up into the garden then began to saw the branches and trunk up. Baxter left her to it and moved towards another tree. He left his eyes drifted down the hill and saw that the German Shepherd was now in the garden below him. The dog was right up against the fence and sniffing the air madly.

From where he was, Baxter could see that the fence looked a lot stronger than his as it was made from concrete pillars and had two layers of thick wire in-between. Still though, he hoped there were no gaps that the dog could get through. Getting his footing next to another young tree, he swung low at the truck. The sound of metal striking wood drew the dog’s attention and this time, aware that something was going on above him, the dog started barking.

Baxter paused and looked nervously down the hill. The dog was jumping up against the fence now and barking urgently. Baxter’s eyes flicked towards the house, but he couldn’t see much further into the garden, let alone a back door. He glanced up at his wife, but couldn’t see her, only his fence. Gritting his teeth, he took a few swift swings at the tree and cut it down.

A yelling voice cut through the dog’s barking and the fading sounds of the tree crashing down. Baxter stopped and ducked down to hide as best he could. He heard the sound of the saw stopping and guessed his wife too had paused. The voice was yelling the dog’s name, though he couldn’t be hundred percent sure what it was, maybe Dante? Danta? Danti?

The dog stopped barking and the owner’s voice – a young man- questioned what had started it. Of course the dog didn’t answer and the man made his own conclusion that it was properly just a large bird or cat.

Holding his breath, Baxter slowly peered out of the branches and down into the garden once more. The dog and man had gone. Standing up, he grabbed the tree and hauled it up to his fence where his wife stood waiting. Together, they pulled the tree into their garden and left it beside the others.

‘That was close,’ Baxter muttered.

His wife glared at him, ‘what does it matter?’ she shot back.

Startled, he stared at her, his hand lose on the axe.

‘Do you think he would have even cared or asked? And if he had done, you could have said you were doing some winter pruning and to mind his own bloody business!’ She half shouted.

‘Calm down, it’s alright,’ he said gently.

He let the axe fall to the floor and held his wife tightly. He kissed her head and rubbed her shoulders. Slowly, she uncoiled and let her body lean against his. He heard her sigh and wondered if she was going to cry.

‘We’ll get through this,’ he said softly, ‘It’s only another month or so. It’ll be fine.’

‘I know,’ she sniffed.

‘Hey, there’s still time to sell the children,’ he joked and laughed.

She smiled, laughing lightly and patting his shoulder, ‘I don’t think we’d get much for them,’ she joined in with the joke.

Baxter hugged her tightly, ‘then we’ll just carry on. Now let’s get this wood sorted and inside before it starts to get dark and the children come home.’

His wife nodded and together they want back to work.

Mill Pond

mpss

The Soldier’s Piano

 

russian

Boris was walking through deep woods with his troop when something strange caught his eye. He paused and aimed his rifle automatically. As his eyes adjusted to the distance, he thought it was a piece of furniture. He lowered the weapon and cast a look at the back of the soldier ahead of him. Private Coss was disappearing behind a tree, a stripe of cigarette smoke drifting behind him.

Lowering his gun even more, Boris slowly moved a few paces. He knew he should really be following Coss or else he should have pointed out the object. It was probably nothing, but back up was always useful. The enemy hadn’t seen or heard from in days. The rumour was that they had retreated back to the boarder. However, patrols like Boris’ still went out daily.

He carried on cautiously. His heavy and mud splattered boots crunching loudly on leaves and sticks. As he got closer, he saw it was a straight back piano. He stopped and shouldered the rifle. He turned and began stepping away. There was no threat from a musical instrument.

I wonder how it got there?

The thought caught him off guard and he twisted around. The piano stood silently with a small bird perched on top of it, which watched Boris curiously. Rearranging his gun, he marched up to the piano. The dark wood looked freshly varnished, but it was already showing signs of being exposed to the elements. As the bird took flight, Boris wandered around the piano and saw that there was no one hiding on the other side.

He strolled around again and slid the cover off the keys. They looked intact, just like the rest of the instrument. He doubt it would work or even been in tune. He chuckled and pulled up the rifle’s strap. He stretched out cold fingers and hovered them over some keys. It felt like a life time since he’d played.

He brought his fingers down and they struck the keys loudly. He jumped back, his heart racing at the sudden blast of sound in the quiet woods. Clutching his rifle, Boris looked around. A flock of birds had taken flight and were circling the sky. They called out to each other and then flapped out of sight. Running footsteps and hushed voices came from behind him and Boris readied the gun. From out of the tree line came Private Coss. His gun was in firing position. As they saw each other, they lowered their weapons.

‘What was that?’ Coss said in a low voice.

‘The piano,’ Boris replied, nodding towards it.

Another two men, who Boris recognised as Privates Ivchenko and Pokrovsky joined them. They scouted the area, moving in out of the trees like alert deer. The vibrations of the notes faded and Boris turned back to the piano. This time he touched the keys more slowly and gently. They played their softer notes and in perfect tune.

‘What’s it doing here?’ Coss asked coming to his side.

‘No idea. Must have been dumped,’ Boris answered.

He looked over the top, trying to see a house or smoke or car tracks in the mud. He saw nothing but trees and undisturbed ground. Somehow, he knew it hadn’t been there very long, but it was a mystery to how and why it had ended up here.

‘What’s that?’ a deep voice spoke from behind them.

‘A piano,’ Coss explained, with a glance over his shoulder at Ivchenko.

Boris’s fingers were still playing across the keys. Notes rippled out of the piano forming a familiar song. He didn’t realise he was doing so until Coss grabbed his hand. Boris shot him an anger look and then followed Coss line of sight. A stag had appeared at the edge of the clearing. Boris’s breath caught in his throat, he’d never seen the animal up close. Beside him, Coss was grabbing his gun and resting it against the piano.

‘Don’t,’ Boris whispered.

‘Why not?’ Ivchenko rumbled.

He forced his way between them and balanced his gun as well.

‘What’s going on?’ Pokrovsky called. ‘Is it the enemy?’

‘No. It’s a mighty stag. Biggest I’ve ever seen!’ Ivchenko hissed.

‘Let’s take it down together,’ Coss cut in.

‘I said no!’ Boris shouted and he pounded the piano.

A blast of notes shot up in the air, backed by gun fire. However, the stag had startled at Boris’ voice and had already jumped off. The bullets sunk harmlessly into the trunks of trees, but the piano’s notes carried on with their warning sound.

Ivchenko swung his gun and threw the butt into Boris’s face.

‘What the fuck did you do that for?’ he yelled.

Boris stumbled backwards, a hand rising to the side of his face. Ivchenko went to hit him again, but Coss grabbed the muzzle of the gun. Pokrovsky stepped between them, facing Ivchenko with his arms spread.

‘Stop, stop!’ he cried.

Pressing a hand to his face, Boris spat blood. He watched it fall on a crumbled leaf and then turned back to the other soldiers. The notes had faded away and the natural sounds of the woods had returned. Boris rubbed his jaw; it felt numb and swollen already. He tongued the cut inside his cheek and spat more blood.

‘Let’s get back,’ Coss said calmly.

He lowered Ivchenko’s gun, letting go. Mumbling and swearing under his breath, Ivchenko went to shoulder his rifle, but suddenly he took aim and fired. The shot deafened them and caused Coss and Pokrovsky to move backwards.

Boris held his ground and looked down. He expected blood to blossom across the khaki uniform and pain to rocket through him. When nothing happened he raised his head and observed the piano. A massive chunk had been ripped out of the side. Bits of wood and string lay across the ground and there was a dull groaning vibration coming from the instrument as if the piano was dying.

Boris glanced at Ivchenko, catching the look of satisfaction across the soldier’s face as he shouldered his rifle and turned away.