Archive for the Short stories Category

The Shopkeeper and his daughters

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , on May 19, 2016 by Kate Jack

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The Shopkeeper and his daughters

o.htmlnce upon a time there was a shopkeeper who owned a small greengrocers. He and his three daughters lived above the shop. Their lives were very dull and ordinary, apart from their weekly visit to the library. The eldest daughter loved romance, the middle sister adored adventure and the youngest craved fairy tales. Dad read ponderous tomes on history and politics.

Whenever they entered the library, they each headed for their own particular sections, looking neither to the left or the right. So it was they remained unaware of the dark narrow passage, containing shelves full of books that were never read – not even by the librarians.

Entrance to this forbidding place was through an arch, above which crouched a gargoyle. It features were screwed up in puzzlement, as if it didn’t understand life at all. Apart from being permanently baffled, it was also an ill-mannered creature; perhaps being draped in cobwebs put it in a bad temper.

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o.htmlne day, after a particularly dull week, the eldest sister entered the library behind the rest of her family, face set in an expression that almost rivalled the gargoyle’s.  She was sick and tired of helping to keep shop, she wanted to think about something else. Normally the prospect of taking out a new romance immediately cheered her up, but she was fed up with that too. Maybe she should take a leaf out of her  middle sister’s book, as it were, and try an adventure story for a change. Little did she know that the others all felt the same, they yearned for something different.

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Just then the gargoyle chose to blow a loud raspberry, they all stared up at it.

‘How very rude,’ they all chorused and were immediately shushed by the head librarian.

Not sure what to do next, they muttered amongst themselves, until Dad came to a decision. He squared his shoulders, glared at the gargoyle, who winked back, then led his daughters into the fusty darkness that lay beyond the arch.

As they shuffled along, the light from the library became fainter until it almost disappeared. Their feet left prints in the thick dust that covered the floor. The only sounds to be heard was their breathing and the faint chatter from the books on the shelves to either side. The tomes rustled their pages and nudged each other’s bindings, excited for the first time in years; it was easy to tell they weren’t used to visitors. The little family did their best to ignore them, until the youngest sister stopped and pointed.

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Ahead lay a faint glimmer of golden light. Dad and his offspring looked at each other, shrugged and then walked on. The glow became stronger and they were able to see it came from a large book, lying on a lectern at the further-most of end of the passage. Although it only looked a few feet away, no matter how the man and his girls hurried, it seemed an age before they reached it.

They gathered around and stared in wonder at the parchment pages, illuminated with the most glorious letters and pictures, in red, blue and gold ink. As they gazed in awe, the little family somehow knew that whatever this magnificent volume contained, it would change their lives forever.

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nce upon a time…’ the shopkeeper began.

 

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http://goo.gl/rpJxPM Amzn UK 

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Dreamtime (Part Three)

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , on May 31, 2015 by Kate Jack

fantasy cat

I need to introduce you to someone,’ Edward said, as he watched Katie fussing around the bike. ‘You might find him useful on your journey.’
Katie looked round at him, a frown on her face. ‘I don’t need anyone else,’ she replied, her tone a touch acerbic.
Unruffled as ever, Edward said, ‘Then I can’t help you.’ He took hold of the bike’s handlebars and when Katie tried to wrench it back, he stepped away, taking the bike with him.
She glared at him for a second, then her shoulders slumped in defeat. ‘Very well,’ she said, ‘who is this person?’
In answer, Edward smiled and called out, ‘Hibiscus, where are you?’
I emerged from my hiding place and sprang up onto the counter, next to the girl. To my surprise she recoiled with a look of horror on her pale face.
‘A cat?’ she quavered, ‘You want to introduce me to a cat?’
For the first time since I’d known him, Edward looked angry. ‘You don’t like cats?’
‘It’s not that, it’s just …’ Katie trailed off and her eyes filled with tears. She sniffed and delved into the pocket of her skirt to retrieve a rather crumpled tissue. After blowing her nose, and straightening her skirt, she looked up and went on, ‘I do like cats – in fact I love them.’ I purred loudly and rubbed up against her arm. She scratched me absentmindedly behind my ears and I felt as if I was in heaven. Katie smiled down at me. ‘It’s just that they remind me of what I’ve lost and why I want to go home.’
Edward gestured towards a pair of chairs behind the counter, and as they sat down, said, ‘Tell me what happened.’
There was silence for a second, before Katie took a deep breath, and then blurted out, ‘Well, it all began when I was trying to find a cure for premature hair loss…’

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…The valley was a wonderful place, filled with sunshine and flowers, and herbs in abundance. The tiny village, where Katie Marigold had been born, nestled amongst the trees, its tiny, red roofed cottages peeking out between the foliage like scattered jewels.
Katie Marigold stood in her flower filled garden, hands on hips, and regarded the wooden tub with cautious optimism. The dark water it held contained a number of herbs, which she hoped would cure her latetest customer’s problem. She poked the rather murky contents with a hazel twig; it made a “boing” noise. Perhaps it was a tad too thick? She shook her head. No, it was fine. She knew it.
In truth Grimbold the wizard was her only customer and the reason he’d come to her was because he’d tried everywhere else – she was his last hope. The not-so-talented magic weaver was desperate, so he’d told her. If she didn’t help him, he didn’t know what he would do. A magical experiment, to create an artificial flying dragon, had resulted in an explosion that had left him bereft of his eyebrows and hair. Unlike most other wizards, Grimbold was young and handsome and he’d become the object of affection of most of the village ladies. His good looks, as far as they were concerned, made up for his ineptitude in the magical department. Rumours were rife that he and Griselda Montmorrisey, the village’s leading witch, were in a relationship. True or not, Griselda made it clear he was out of bounds as far as the rest of the female population were concerned. As for the young man himself, he was far too scared of Griselda to gainsay her.
Katie couldn’t have cared less. Magic was her life and Grimbold held no allure for her. All he ever did, when they ran into each other, was blush and stammer; quite frankly, he got on her nerves. The only interest she had in him was as a client. If she could cure him of his baldness, then her career as a hedge witch would soar to new heights. She wanted to become the best and usurp that overbearing harridan, Griselda.
There were two reasons for this. Firstly, Griselda was a stuck up cow, whose exclusive circle of friends did not include Katie. Secondly, many years ago, she’d cheated in the village’s annual witching competition. Katie’s late mother, Hortense Gerber Marrow, had been robbed of the gold medal for her spell to cure the common cold. Griselda had secretly cast a glamour upon the assembled villagers filling the marquee, in which the competition was being held, with illusions that made everyone else’s entries appear shoddy and second rate. That had been bad enough, but what she’d done to Hortense had been even worse.
Katie remembered it well. When Highbold Knockworthy, the village mayor and leading wizard, had approached the long line of patiently waiting competitors, he’d been sneezing his head off. His bulbous nose was bright red and he constantly blew it into the large, and rather soggy, handkerchief he carried in his right hand. Every year Highbold was plagued with a summer cold and so it was with particular interest that he stopped at Hortense’s table, and regarded her potion with watery, yet hopeful eyes.
‘Does it work?’ he asked, pointing an imperious finger at the dark blue flask containing the spell.
‘Yes, your worship,’ Hortense replied with a sweet smile. ‘I tried it out on the cat and it worked a treat.’ True, it had worked and the cat was cured of its cold. What Hortense failed to mention was that the unfortunate animal had also sprouted a pair of donkey ears and a pig’s snout. Yes, the side effects had worn off after a few days, and she was sure she’d sorted it all out; nevertheless she was a little apprehensive, when Highbold grabbed the flask, pulled out the cork with his teeth, and then swallowed the whole contents in one go.
Everyone held their breath, as still clutching the empty flask, Highbold smacked his lips and waited for the spell to take effect. After a few seconds, a smile wreathed his plump features and he turned to face the waiting crowd.
‘It’s worked,’ he said gleefully. To demonstrate the veracity of this statement, he inhaled deeply through his hitherto blocked nose. ‘See?’ he added.

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Everyone started to applaud, and was on the verge of congratulating Hortense, when Highbold let out an ear piercing yowl. Everyone stared in alarm, as his ears lengthened and grew into points, which in turn became covered with fine black hair. His nose shrank into a tiny triangle, a definite improvement on its former state, and the splendid handlebar moustache that had formerly graced his upper lip, split and divided into slender whiskers. A tearing sound caused everyone to turn their gaze on the seat of his pants, where a beautiful black tail now protruded.
‘Meow!’ The former mayor screeched and bolted from the tent, leaving Hortense the focus of multiple glares and accusatory stares. Little did she know that she was not responsible for the catastrophe, but five-year-old Katie Marigold knew who was really to blame.
Peeping out from behind her mother’s skirts, the little girl had observed Griselda muttering beneath her breath. As Highbold swallowed the potion, the witch’s fingers wove a pattern in the air and a chill little breeze blew through the tent, unnoticed by anyone but the child. She’d tried to tell her mother, but Hortense was too absorbed watching Highbold; by then it was too late.
Katie shut down anymore thoughts about that long ago day and returned her attention to the hair restoring potion. The garden gate creaked and she looked up to see Grimbold advancing up the path. Today, in place of his usual wizardly robes, he wore a blue and white check shirt and jeans, which fitted his athletic figure to perfection. The only thing that marred his otherwise handsome appearance was an overlarge baseball cap, which came right down to his ears, barely allowing him to see where he was going.
‘H-hello Katie,’ he stuttered, I’ve come about-’
‘Yes, yes,’ she said, waving him to a nearby chair, ‘sit down and take your hat off.’
She was almost blinded by the glare from his bald pate. When he looked up at her with sad blue eyes, she resisted the urge to pat his head; he looked just like an overgrown baby. ‘We’ll soon have you right again, she said as kindly as she could. ‘Just relax, while I apply the mixture.’
As she began to smooth the mixture over his head with a spatula, Grimbold made an attempt at conversation. ‘This’s really good of you,’ he burbled, trying not to cringe, as the mixture oozed into his ears, ‘d’you think it’ll work?’
‘I’m sure of it,’ Katie replied, smearing one last dollop across the top of his head. ‘You’ll soon be in Griselda’s good books again.’ She was surprised at the vehemence in her own voice as she said this, and even more surprised when Grimbold scowled at her.
‘Now look here,’ he retorted, with uncharacteristic anger, ‘Griselda and I are not-’
He was interrupted by the clang of the garden gate, as it was thrown open. They both turned to see Griselda Montmorrisey storming across the lawn towards them. ‘Grimbold!’ she shrilled, ‘What in Hades name are you doing in this charlatan’s garden!’
‘Well, you know,’ he mumbled, indicating his hairless head. ‘When you couldn’t cure me, I thought I’d try-’ He broke off and looked down at his feet to avoid her killer death ray glare.
As she continued to stride towards them, she pointed an accusatory finger. Too late, Katie realised what was happening, and tried to pull the young wizard aside. Before she could do so, he threw up his arms so violently, his chair tipped over, depositing him in a heap on the ground. For a moment, silence fell, then Grimbold made a snorting sound, before scrambling to his feet.
‘What have you done to me?’ he whispered, staring at Katie with eyes that had now turned green. The pupils had narrowed to slits and as she watched, Katie felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. Hair began to sprout from Grimbold’s head, spreading rapidly down his face and neck. His shirt and jeans began to twitch, as though something was moving beneath the fabric, and then there was a horribly familiar tearing sound, as a tail protruded from the seat of his pants.
‘What have you done to me!’ Grimbold said again, but this time with a definite yowl in his voice. Then, without warning, his clothes collapsed in a heap on the grass. Both women stared in alarm, as the shirt apparently became infused with a life of its own and galloped off across the lawn. When it reached the gate, it shook itself, falling away from a sleek black shape that rocketed out into the lane, and across the fields opposite Katie’s house. Horrified beyond measure, she watched the cat hurtle away, until it was out of sight.
‘Do you know what you’ve done, you rank amateur?’
The sound of Griselda’s cold voice shook Katie out of her reverie and she stared at the older woman in dismay. ‘I didn’t mean to,’ she said, her voice choked with tears.
Griselda looked down her long nose. ‘You Marrow’s are all the same, stupid and incompetent. Well this is the end for you now, girl. You’ll be banished to the mortal world forever – I’ll see to that…’

running cat

…’And she did,’ Katie said sadly, staring at Edward with tear filled eyes.
For a moment he said nothing, then after glancing at me, said, ‘I think there is a way you can get home, but it won’t be easy.’
Both Katie and I leaned eagerly towards him. ‘Tell me,’ she said.

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Dreamtime (Part Two)

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , , on May 3, 2015 by Kate Jack

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‘So,’ Edward said, as he sat down at his desk, opposite Katie Marigold, ‘What brings you to my shop?’
The girl stirred a generous spoonful of sugar into her mug of tea, sighed, and then said, ‘A dream.’
Edward raised an eyebrow, but made no comment.
Katie wriggled in her chair. ‘I’m a hedge witch,’ she stated flatly. ‘I specialise in herbs and things like that.’ She paused, but Edward remained silent. ‘Look, I know you probably think I’m crazy, but-’
She was cut off, by a wild trumpeting coming from the shop. Her face paled and Edward patted her hand. ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the mammoth.’
Katie gawked at him. ‘What?’
‘The mammoth,’ Edward repeated patiently. ‘He’s usually asleep, but every now and then he wakes up. I should imagine he’s a bit confused as to where he is, hence the trumpeting; he’ll settle down in a minute.’

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The crash of breaking crockery, along with a few more bellows, filtered into the office. We all waited until the noises at last subsided and silence fell. ‘See?’ Edward said, leaning back in his chair, ‘nothing to worry about.’
Katie gave him a dubious look, shook her head, and took a hurried slurp of tea. ‘And I thought you’d think I was crazy,’ she muttered, putting the mug back down.
Edward ignored this. ‘So, you were saying something about a dream?’
‘Yes.’ Katie cleared her throat. ‘I live out in the suburbs, Garston Village way,’ she explained. ‘It’s quite pretty, but a bit limiting for a hedge witch; it’s too near the docks.’ She drummed her fingers on the desk and gave Edward a thoughtful glance. ‘You see I was cursed by another witch, a long time ago. I was a better herbalist than her and she became jealous and banished me to this place.’
‘She banished you to Liverpool?’ Edward said. If a cat could laugh, I almost did – how ridiculous!
Katie blushed. ‘I know it’s a pretty mundane place to end up in, not when you consider all the nether hells she could’ve sent me to.’
Edward raised a hand to his mouth to hide a smile. ‘Perhaps she lacked imagination,’ he said; Katie glared at him.
‘Look, I need you to take me seriously, I want to go home. I’ve been trying for ages and getting nowhere.’ She waved a hand towards the shop. ‘I’ve read about places like this, they’re portals to other worlds, aren’t they?’
‘’Fraid not, this one’s more of a sanctuary for magical creatures who have nowhere else to go.’

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‘B-but my dream!’ Katie spluttered. ‘I dreamt about you and this place. It was so real, so clear. I knew I had to come here. I’ve spent ages looking for you, worn myself out trudging around, searching,’ she added, with a touch of indignation.
Edward shrugged. ‘Sorry,’ he said.
The girl looked down at her intertwined fingers, it was clear she was close to tears. I narrowed my eyes and twitched my tail, there was something missing here, Katie hadn’t told us all her story. I say “us”, but she was, as yet, unaware of my presence. Edward glanced in my direction, where I crouched hidden behind a row of box files, then looked back at Katie.
‘You say this other witch was jealous,’ he began, ‘is that all there is to it?’
‘Yes,’ Katie replied, too quickly in my opinion.
‘Alright,’ Edward said in an even tone, ‘but I still can’t help you.’
Katie sighed, stood up, and turned towards the door. ‘I suppose I’d better go,’ she said. Her hand lingered on the handle, but Edward said nothing, neither encouraging her to stay or go. My tail thrashed wildly; surely he wouldn’t just let her walk out? She could be the one to change my life… she could be my salvation!
‘How d’you get around?’ he asked, as she pulled the door open.
She gave him a puzzled look. ‘What?’
‘When you go searching for a way home, how d’you travel?’
Katie shrugged. ‘By bus, mostly,’ she replied, ‘The number 86A, usually.’

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Edward rubbed his chin. ‘I see. Well I might be able to help you there. Follow me.’ He pushed past her into the shop and I almost grinned, like the fabled Cheshire Cat, as they both went through to the shop. He was testing her. Everything depended on the next few minutes.
I trotted after them, silent as a ghost, and hid myself behind the counter. Katie watched, as Edward rummaged around in a corner. Various articles were thrown over his shoulder, as he searched for whatever he was looking for: a broomstick, a detached gnome house in the shape of a white spotted, red capped toadstool, a couple of gargoyles, who squeaked their protests at being disturbed, and finally a couple of bats fluttered up to the ceiling, their dark eyes glittering with rage at being turfed out of their cosy corner.

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A final clatter of falling detritus heralded the end of Edward’s search. He straightened up, face flushed with exertion, clutching the handlebars of a rather shabby looking bicycle.
‘Here you are,’ he said, his voice and expression filled with triumph, ‘It’s on the house.’
The girl gave the bike a dubious look, as she walked slowly round it. A large wicker basket was attached to the handlebars, along with a couple of leather bags hung to either side at the back. Both Edward and I held our breath, as she walked slowly round it. All of a sudden she stopped and touched the frame with one finger, quickly withdrawing it as if she’d received a shock.
Mouth open wide, Katie gasped, and her face was a picture of astonishment, as she exclaimed, ‘This is a wiccan transporter! I’ve never seen one before, but I’m sure it is.’
A slow smile spread across Edward’s face, confirming my own belief that the girl was indeed the one we’d been waiting for… she’d passed the test, which meant the future, although still uncertain, at last held some hope.

cat-booksTo be continued…

dove

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Dreamtime (Part One)

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , , , on April 19, 2015 by Kate Jack

shop
I was reborn two years ago, in a shop on Smithdown Road in Liverpool, a little way down from where the old hospital used to be. It was a dark, crowded little place; at least it appeared so from the outside. The window, dusty and dirty, was cluttered with objects which couldn’t be seen clearly by anyone standing on the pavement. The sign over the door, chipped and peeling of course, said simply: “Book Emporium” in faded gilt letters, and yes we did sell books … amongst other things.

Occasionally, if the mood took him, the owner would set out bits and pieces of bric-a-brac and sticks of lopsided furniture on the pavement. This eccentric technique failed to attract many customers and one of the other reasons for this, apart from the premise’s shabbiness, was that it wasn’t always there. Yes, it was one of those kind of shops.

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Smithdown Road is crammed with small businesses, selling all kinds of things. It’s a bustling kind of place, so who’s going to notice if a small, dingy shop front isn’t always where it should be? Only a special sort of person would really see it in the first place, and Katie Marigold Marrow was just that kind of girl.

I first noticed her when she came into the shop, whether by design or accident, I don’t know. The bell over the door jangled, waking up the miniature dragon that slept there; it flew off in a huff.

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I raised my head from inside the basket I was currently using as a bed, and saw a tall, gangly female step cautiously through the doorway. She gazed around, eyes wide and mouth open, at the plethora of goods hanging from the ceiling. They also crowded every available surface, and filled most of the floor space in a glorious jumble. Her gaze settled on a bookcase, crammed with tomes: leather bound, paper backs, hard backs, all (literally) jostling for position.

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Squeaks of protests issued from the shelves, as the weightier books shoved the slimmer volumes aside. I noticed, as I continued to watch the girl, that she seemed unfazed by this activity. She even stepped closer and stretched out a hand to pick one of them up; an unwise move in my opinion. A copy of How to control your library gnashed its covers and flapped its pages at her, again disturbing the dragon, which had taken refuge there; Katie Marigold hastily withdrew.

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‘There’s no need to be so nasty,’ she said, glaring at the recalcitrant book. ‘I only wanted some advice.’
‘Shove it!’ the book snapped back, and shuffled along the shelf out of reach.

The owner, Edward, bespectacled and white bearded, wandered out onto the shop floor from the back office where he spent most of his time. ‘Can I help you?’ he said, reaching under his flat cap to scratch his bald head, as if bemused by her presence.

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She opened her mouth to reply, when one of the many tiny universes that populated the shop, floated into view. It hovered above her, the light from its orbiting twin moons illuminating her face and highlighting her wonder. Its surface was pock marked with land masses, and swirling mists of blue and green revealed pinpricks of light, before they were once again hidden. Her attention was then diverted by a flock of star swallows, as they flew past, their silver feathers and star filled eyes illuminating the shop for a few seconds. I gnashed my teeth and wiggled my bottom, ready to leap at the irritating birds, but they spotted me and disappeared into a nearby cupboard.

Katie Marigold clasped her hands in delight. ‘This is the right place,’ she breathed; she turned her attention to Edward and gazed at him as though he was the most handsome man in the world.

‘The right place for what?’ he asked in a grave tone and regarded her cautiously over the top of his glasses.

Again she clasped her hands and her smile almost lit up the shop as brightly as those pesky birds. ‘This is the place where I can find my way home,’ she said.

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To be continued… dove

http://www.ecanuspublishing.co.uk/ecanus-books.html

***

Do unto others…

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , on March 15, 2015 by Kate Jack

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Edward Galway looked at the postcard in his hand and quirked his thin lips into a sour smile. The cartoon of a suffragette flinging herself at a startled man was, in his opinion, wholly accurate. Harpies, mentally deficient – and above all – sluts! They’d do anything to win the right to vote – preposterous!

He placed the postcard on a small table at the side of his chair, then picked up the newspaper. This time he clicked his tongue at the front page photograph of a group of men kicking at a woman, lying prone on the pavement. The headline, in large black letters, proclaimed: WOMAN ATTACKED BY ANTI SUFFERAGE PROTESTORS!

Black-friday

The article accompanying the image seemed to imply the attack was a disgrace, particularly the participation of an officer of the law. Edward shook the paper, crumpled it into a ball, and flung it down. What rubbish! The stupid bitch deserved every kick, every blow. He wished he’d been there, he’d have shown her what’s what. She should’ve been at home, tending to her husband and children, not gadding about like some demonic, crazed creature.

He looked around the parlour with its numerous pictures, oil lamps, and anti-macassar strewn chairs. It was rather dusty and the grate had not been cleaned for days. Emily, once an obedient, dutiful wife,  had become increasingly opinionated and, one might say, rebellious since the advent of this “votes for women” nonsense. Of course he’d chastised and disciplined her, until one day she’d had the temerity to smash a vase over his head! When he’d come round, it was to find her gone without so much as a by-your-leave.

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Well, he’d get round to finding her and when he did… Edward shrugged aside his anger. Time to treat himself and relax a little. He rose from his chair, made his way out into the hall, and began to climb the stairs. Somewhat out of breath, he finally reached the attic. He paused to regard the large, mahogany wardrobe, pushed up against the far wall. It stood resplendent, guarding its secret contents with sterling fortitude.

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Edward fished a small key from the pocket of his waistcoat, and mouth watering in anticipation, approached the imposing piece of furniture. His hand shook a little, as he inserted the key into the lock. Today was the day – today he was going to venture into the outside world in the guise of his alter ego. The very thought of it sent a thrill through him.

The door swung open, revealing the treasure trove within…

*

“Votes for women! Votes for women!” The pavement was crowded with placard carrying females from every walk in life. Their voices rang out, drowning the catcalls and jeers from the mostly male watchers. Police officers did their best to keep the mob back as the suffragettes strode along the street, heads up, shoulders back.

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A lone woman, dressed in a royal blue gown and matching, flower bedecked hat, regarded the marchers with undisguised contempt. She shook her head and glowered at the women, until suddenly she realised she knew one of them. The bitch! How dare she join this bunch of ludicrous troublemakers! Well Emily’d rue this day for a very long time. Forgetting for a moment the need for caution, the blue gowned woman felt her face heat up with rage. Gathering up her skirts, she began to force her way through the watching men, until one of them grabbed her arm. “‘ere, who d’yer think yer shovin'” 

She glared at the blackened features of a common chimney sweep, and snapped, “Let go of me, you oaf! How dare you touch me?”

Unperturbed, he grinned at her. “I’ll let yer go darlin’ if yer give us a kiss. C’mon now, it’s lucky to kiss a sweep.” He reached out a filthy hand, his fingers closing over her left breast.

She began to struggle, lashing out with unladylike ferocity. Enraged, the sweep retaliated with a roundhouse punch that felled her to the ground. Spurred on by their anger at the suffragettes, and the sweep’s fury, other men gathered around her prone body.

As he saw booted feet swing towards him, Edward closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his head. Pain flooded through him, as the blows rained down. Oh God, why had he been so stupid to venture out dressed like this?

victorian-crossdresser

“Oi! Stop that! Clear the way!” A bunch of police officers forced their way through the bestial mob; one of them knelt down beside Edward, and grabbing his shoulder, rolled him over.

“You alright, love?” Gingerly the policeman peeled back the hat’s veil. Through blurred vision, Edward saw his astonished expression. He groaned.

“‘ere sarge,’ the man called over his shoulder, “this ain’t a woman!”

“Wot the hell d’yer mean?” the sergeant called back.

Red faced, the constable pushed back his helmet and replied, “Well for a start, ‘e’s got a moustache.”

Another face came into Edward’s increasingly blurred view, but he ignored it’s horrified expression. Everything was going dark. His heartbeat slowed… and then there was nothing.

“Votes for women! Votes for women!” Emily yelled, feeling liberated and joyful, totally unaware that on the other side of the street, her husband was no longer in a position to deny her the right to voice her opinion.

Emmeline_Pankhurst_I_cropped

Emeline Pankhurst.

The Dress.

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , , on December 30, 2014 by Kate Jack

dress
Fusty and dusty, the attic was filled with things – all kinds of things – crammed around the edges of the room. They were like a silent, jumbled congregation, wedged together in silent worship of the deity standing in the centre of the floor. From the skylight directly above, sunlight poured down to bathe it in a halo of golden light.

The dressmaker’s dummy stood stiff and proud, its headless outline both awe inspiring and terrifying. It was shrouded in deep red velvet that appeared almost black in places. Sparkles winked and glittered from the hundreds of tiny glass stones, sewn onto the fabric. They constantly changed colour, from purple through to pink and blue, as though a living body occupied the dress. Such was its grandeur, it didn’t take a great leap of imagination to envisage an Edwardian lady, hair piled high, wearing such a garment to an important occasion, such as dining with royalty.

The dress was old, an antique of a bygone fashion, yet it looked fresh and new as if caught in a time bubble. It oozed sophistication and style, from its low cut neckline, that would reveal just a hint of clevage, right down to the graceful sweep of the long skirt.

These thoughts and observations passed rapidly through Prudence’s mind, as she climbed the last of the attic stairs, and then came to a stop in front of the dressmaker’s dummy. She couldn’t believe her luck. She’d not been in the attic for years, not since she was a child, and had forgotten about the dress, until she’d come up here the other day, searching for something else. Prudence wasn’t even sure if she’d ever seen the garment before. But that didn’t matter, it was an absolute treasure and so beautiful. Behind her, more footsteps sounded and a second later a young man stood beside her. Her smile was uncertain as she gazed up into his rather weasel like features.

‘This is what I wanted to show you, Cal.’ She gestured towards the dress and the young man’s brow furrowed.

‘You dragged me all the way up here to see that rag?’ He pulled the back of his hand across his sweat soaked forehead. ‘I sometimes wonder what goes on in your tiny brain.’ The frown turned into something more sinister, as he added, ‘Maybe you need some sense knocking into you.’

‘Please, Cal, don’t.’Prudence’s voice was a reflection of her meek personality, which was further emphasised by her mousy hair and stick thin figure. Despite being in her early twenties, she resembled a dowdy, middle-aged spinster, dressed in a dull blouse, calf length skirt, and the obligatory saggy pocketed cardigan, along with flat heeled shoes. ‘I just thought it’d be great for the fancy dress ball next week,’ she said, hoping to placate her fiancée.

It didn’t work. Pasty face still flushed with anger, Callum Maguire curled his lip. ‘You? Wearing that? If you think you’re showing me up at the biggest social event of the year, you can think again.’ He held up a finger and jabbed it towards her face, causing Prudence to blink and step back. ‘You’ve been warned, Prue, I won’t tell you again.’

He turned towards the stairs, and as she listened to his bad tempered footsteps thundering down towards the landing, Prudence tried to hold back her tears. She dabbed at her eyes with a crumpled tissue, taken from one of the cardigan’s pockets. Why did she find it so difficult to stand up for herself? Ever since childhood, she’d done her best to be good and obedient. She’d honed self effacement into a fine art, but despite her best efforts, knew she remained a disappointment to the family.

Her parents, still known as “mummy and daddy” to Prudence, had always regarded her with distant, chilly contempt. Every time she’d been brought down from the nursery, the atmosphere instantly changed from vivacious and witty conversation, to boredom and barely stifled yawns. Young as she was, she always felt as though she was walking on eggshells.

Prudence stuffed the tissue back into her pocket and looked around the cluttered attic with a hopeless air. As her gaze roved over the stacks of old books, tied up with threadbare string, broken toys and other miscellanea, she reflected that this was where she belonged. To hide away amongst the rubbish and become invisible, especially to Cal, became an almost attractive prospect in Prudence’s troubled mind.

Browbeaten into accepting his proposal of marriage by her mother, “for the good of the family”, she’d done her utmost to love him against insurmountable odds. The prospect of spending the rest of her life shackled to a cowardly, weasley brute filled her with revulsion. That said, given her submissive nature, Prudence accepted that married life, for her, would be one long prison sentence, until death provided a release.

A loud clatter, from the other side of the room, caused her heart to leap and she looked around again, eyes wide with fear; what on earth was that? Heart still pounding, and stomach weak with terror, she nonetheless forced herself towards the source of the noise. Relief flooded her system, when she saw a large portrait lying face down on the floor. Prudence stared at it for a second, then bent over and grasped either side of the ornate frame with both hands.
Dust cascaded from the picture, as she struggled to lift it up and then lean it against the base of the dressmaker’s dummy. She stepped back, wiping her hands down her cardigan, and then froze; a face, so like and yet unlike her own, stared back at her. It was a woman, with a long, slender neck and haughty features. Her brown hair had been swept up and gathered into a knot of curls. Dark eyes, filled with pride, stared a challenge at the world, and her lips were set in a superior smile. And that was the difference between them. The woman, whoever she was, oozed confidence and self assurance.

I am a prize to be won. I will not give myself to anyone who does not deserve me. I will fight for what is mine… and so should you.

The whispered words lodged in Prudence’s mind, and she again looked around, but she was alone… except for the portrait. Surely it hadn’t spoken? Prudence shook her head and forced a brittle laugh from between her dry lips. She was being silly, or “fanciful”, as mummy would put it. And what would Cal think if she told him? Prudence closed her eyes and shuddered.

She returned her attention to the painting. It was a head and shoulders portrait and as she stepped closer, she could just make out the low cut, deep red neckline of the woman’s gown; it looked like… Prudence glanced up at the dress, then back down at the picture. The necklines were the same. She reached out to touch the portrait and then sharply withdrew her hand; the canvas felt warm! Then she noticed the small plaque affixed to the base of the frame. She wiped away some of the dust and read the name: Emily Montague. Hand pressed to her mouth, Prudence slowly stood up. This was a portrait of her great, great grandmother – the so-called black sheep of the family; it had obviously been relegated to the attic – out of sight, out of mind.

In her youth, Emily had been involved in scandal after scandal, including supporting the suffragette movement, which resulted in her being imprisoned. On her release, the family ganged up on her and forced her into a marriage to a man three times her age. She ended up living in India, where, so it was rumoured, she’d thrown herself into the Ganges River, rather than live a life she so hated.

Shocked to the very core of her being, Prudence turned towards the stairs, but the “voice” called out to her, or rather sounded inside her head again. Don’t go. Try the dress on, see if it fits. Do it now, you’ll never have another chance.

Prudence clenched her hands, until her knuckles stood out white. This was ridiculous! Perhaps Cal was right, she was losing her mind, hearing “voices.” She looked at the dress, draped elegantly on the dummy, and narrowed her eyes. No matter what Cal said, it was beautiful. ‘Too beautiful for me,’ she muttered, ‘what was I thinking?’

She glanced down at the hand she’d used to touch the portrait, her fingertips were bright red, but they didn’t hurt. Rather it felt as if she’d made contact with something – something magical. Oh how she longed for that to be true! A tingle coursed through her veins at the thought. Prudence clenched her hand into a fist, suddenly determined to try the dress on. If it looked silly, well then, so be it.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ she panted, as she fumbled with her cardigan buttons, then the zip on her skirt.

Prudence kicked off the hated shoes and stripped the wrinkled stockings from her legs. She tugged her blouse over her head, then clad only in her underwear, stood breathless and red faced in front of the dress. She reached out and the garment seemed to unfold itself from the dummy. Arms now raised, Prudence revelled in the soft caress of the velvet as it slid down her body, touching her skin like a lover’s kiss. Invisible fingers combed through her hair, gently teasing the tendrils this way and that, until it was piled on top of her head, leaving the back of her neck exposed and a cluster of curls resting on her brow.

Prudence accepted it all. She no longer felt any fear. Her heart still raced, but with excitement, not terror. Even the sound of squeaking castors failed to alarm her, as a full length mirror trundled across the uneven floor towards her. She couldn’t see her reflection at first, due to the dust that smeared the mirror’s glass. When she started to reach out to wipe it clean, a gentle pressure on her arm stayed her. A sweet smelling breeze wound itself across the cluttered room, and touched Prudence’s cheek. As she watched, it blew across the mirror; the particles of dust rose from the glass, drifting into the air like fairy glitter. Fascinated, Prudence continued to watch, as the motes sparkled and swirled and then settled like snow upon the floorboards, where they continued to twinkle before fading away.

Look upon the beauty that is you, the voice whispered. See what has been hidden all these years.

Breath caught in her throat, Prudence raised her head and stared into the glass; a stranger looked back. She was stunned by what gazed at her from the depths of the mirror. Her hair, thick and lustrous, lay piled on top of her head in sweeping curls that accentuated her graceful neck. Shoulders, shapely and beautiful, rose from the scooped neckline, and the curve of her breasts, creamy white, nestled just above the dress’s neckline. The rich velvet encircled her tiny waist, and the skirt fell in elegant folds to her feet.

Filled with joy, she caught up one side of the dress and danced around the room in sheer, abandoned happiness. As she continued to skip and twirl, the light from the stones sewn into the fabric sent out prisms of colour that speckled the makeshift dance floor. She never wanted this feeling to go away. This feeling of lightness that made her feel as if she could fly.

Faster and faster, she whirled around until she began to feel dizzy. She tried to stop, but couldn’t; it was as if something had taken over control of her feet. Fear returned, in great tearing gasps and sobs, as Prudence tried, and failed, to halt the dance, a dance that now threatened her very existence.

Then it did stop – everything stopped. She could feel her heart slowing down, felt her breath gurgle in her throat. Her eyes grew heavy, as darkness blocked out her vision. She stood, frozen to the spot, in front of the mirror. Her reflection opened its eyes and laughed. At last, it murmured and stepped from the mirror, into Prudence’s unmoving body.

Once settled in her new abode, Emily Montague smoothed down the dress, patted a stray hair back into place, and then stepped towards the stairs and a new life.

Behind her, the picture’s canvas was now blank…
frame

http://goo.gl/qw64zu Land of Midnight Days UK
http://goo.gl/VMJLS2 Land of Midnight Days US
http://goo.gl/c0rR2K Through the Gloaming
http://goo.gl/uCg094 Through the Gloaming US
http://goo.gl/g1XcrQ dawn horizon uk
http://goo.gl/PiJfA3 dawn horizon us

Spirit present, spirit past.

Posted in Short stories with tags , , , , on October 2, 2014 by Kate Jack

ghost
She’d been haunting me for a long time now. She never spoke, never moved, just stood at the foot of my bed, staring at me with those dark eyes.

The spirit wasn’t beautiful, like most female ghost seemed to be. In fact, she was somewhat overweight, with dark hair that had obviously been artificially straightened. Clothed in a dress too tight for her ample frame, her single saving grace was that she was young, about eighteen, perhaps nineteen.

What I noticed most about her, was the deep sadness in her eyes, from which tears always seemed about to fall. Her plump hands, bearing cheap rings, wrung themselves constantly, as she tried to convey whatever her message was to me; but I had no interest in listening.

Ever since I’d reached the age of fifty seven, life had turned into one long bout of depression and boredom. My drive, so effusive in my youth, had shrivelled like my face and body. I’d long since forgotten what it felt like to be young, couldn’t imagine it anymore. Procrastination and stagnation had become my middle names.

In the wee small hours of the morning, I’d ponder on my own mortality, especially since the death of my father. I’d also ponder on the passing of my dear mother, many years ago now, when I was just a child; but nowadays her loss was on my mind frequently, as though it’d only happened yesterday.

Here she was again, the spirit of my youth. She held her hands out in supplication, begging, pleading with me to regain my vitality – to live – not just exist.

I turned my face to the wall and closed my eyes.

See this and other short stories, on my website:

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http://katrinajack.weebly.com/

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