All stories


by Dan

“Oh Wales, my Wales, where soft rains fall upon cloud-dappled valleys, my heart is with you.”

Sir Michael Hughes, sighed, a tear appeared in his eye,

“And cut” said the director, “I’m sorry. Do you need a moment?”

The tears stopped immediately, “No, no my boy, just carry on filming, I’ll tell you when I’ve finished!”

“Oh Wales, land of deep pits and deep minds, big hopes and the dreams of ancient Druids! Wales! With full hearts and empty, empty pockets! Your song stays with me. Your curious eyes look to the world, your time is now, Pili Pala, Gwr ty! Oh lovely land of fathers, how do I miss you now!”

There was a long pause.

“Ok now you can stop filming” said the great knight of the theatre, before shuffling from the room aided by his walking frame.

At this point Sir Michael’s 48 year old, still surprisingly pneumatic, wife, Terri- Lynn came in clutching her favourite labradoodle and ushered the crew onto sunset pink California gravel.

“He needs to sleep now” she explained firmly.

But the celebrated actor wasn’t sleeping, he was sitting in a wicker chair, looking out at his vast sculpted golf course of a garden. Next time he’d say no. But they were always so grateful to anyone who had ever set foot in the accursed place. “Except fucking Rolf Harris!” he shouted at the terrified labradoodle who had hoped for what Sir Michael still called a cwtch.

He remembered the last time he’d visited, ten years ago now. Couldn’t wait to leave.

The dirty wet streets full of flying crisp bags, discarded plastic and vomit. The terrible food, the fat shrieking women. Further back he thought of his brutal father snoring, his doting mother, in her revolting knitwear. Cardigan! He hated that word and it’s rainy, hankie-sleeved, utterly Welsh, connotations. He thought of crooked local politicians, pathetic people with comb-overs, puffed with self-importance.

A small country in every way. When he heard that patches of rain forest the size of it were disappearing everyday he shouted “Why not keep the fucking rain forest and make Wales disappear!”

It was a good job he’d probably never go again. To glad-hand his few, surviving relatives and pretend he remembered them. The people he cared about had all departed, as had the street he was born and the chapel where he’d made his first performance, as Joseph.

Sir Michael looked at his beautiful lawns and swimming pool. He regarded his Oscar and Tony awards on the mantelpiece. If there was a heaven it was on Earth this was probably it. And by Christ it was fucking boring.

He felt a drowsy hollowness open inside him and slowly spread all over him until he was immersed in a slough of melancholy despond and longing. Longing for Megan Price behind the bikeshed in 1953, for Ifor and Terry and his teenage skiffle group, for his brother Dai dead these 45 years after a mining accident. For all the things he’d just said he hated, all those things that made him real, to be among them.

Terri-Lynn found him when she returned from Pilates and the following morning the world woke to the news that another giant of stage and screen had died peacefully in his sleep.

Death of the Party

by Russ

There’s a point in every great night where it needs to finish if it’s going to remain great. Of course, it never does, because it’s still a great night at that point. Why would anyone end a night while it’s still great? All you want to do then is to find ways to make it greater, or at least longer.

Whatever. Judging by the way this nonsense was looping through my head as I sat on a stranger’s kitchen floor, that point had faded into history hours ago. I sat staring with curious eyes at the gaggle of half-known faces dividing up powders as they smoked over the kitchen table. It was the smoking indoors which felt the most taboo to me, rather than the open drug market taking place wherever I pointed my eyes. That’s the sort of party my unwillingness to give in had brought me, not the Dionysian orgy of indulgence which flickered through my sparkled brain when the suggestion had floated at lights-up, but rather an opportunity for a couple of semi-pro dealers to pick at the carcass of the party and empty the last of the pockets.

Of course, I’d indulged. The whole point in trailing this crowd of waifs to an edge-of-town terrace was to maintain the feelings I’d been buying since I walked into the club. I’d barely noticed my mates filter off, chatting with whoever happened to fill the pavement beside me and become my immediate best friend. Now I sat alone, leaning back against an oven, while those already forgotten links retreated into shadows, hiding from the dawn as it pushed through the half-curtained windows.

I looked around at the various clusters, searching for someone to cling to. Nobody was looking back. I landed on a pale thigh hanging from the loose split in a long skirt and traced up to its owner, a girl on the edge of a group who’d found themselves cushions around a coffee table. She must have felt my gaze, and looked up for a second, her eyes fighting through the thick black rings painted to protect them. My last connection of the night - one expressionless second before she fell back to dropping flakes into her rolling paper, and I was flushed with the urge.

The urge is what comes when the last vestige of self-preservation breaks through and makes you overwhelmingly aware that its time to stop trying to steal joy, like a crook in the night, and get yourself home before you get caught. It felt like a physical change in me which everyone could see, but nobody reacted. Slowly, using the counter above for support, I found a way to my feet and looked around for someone to who I could announce my departure. Finding nobody, I slipped through the array of potted humans and let myself out by the front door. I blinked for a moment against the day and tried to find steady feat while I got my bearings. Comfort was at least a twenty-minute walk from here. I pulled fraction of the sky through my nose and took the first step, pushing down the rising shame of another night which could have been great.


by Jenny

It had been an overwhelming first week. After her parents' car had pulled away, Bethan found herself alone in a strange city, surrounded by people who all seemed to know exactly what to do already, from how to speak to strangers and where the kitchen was to what was on at the Students Union and which pubs sold the cheapest lager.

She had felt a bit lost until she’d met Lucy from the room across the hall.They’d sort of teamed up, though Lucy could be a bit loud and liked tequila more than anyone she’d ever met. It made her miss Rhian and Eleri and their quiet little friendship with a pang. She wondered if their first weeks had been as strange and scary as her own.

It hadn’t been like she’d expected. There was far less focus on lectures and study and far more focus on drinking and falling over. And so many more jokes about sheep when people found out she came from Cardiff than she could have imagined.

Bethan had only the faintest of accents but she had started to become familiar with the curiosity followed by amusement that flickered across her new friends’ eyes. Cue jokes about inbreeding and sheep shagging and rugby.

They’d worn thin quickly. Bethan thought a few times about just leaving, she’d never liked being the centre of attention. But Lucy seemed to enjoy the rowdy jokes and heavy drinking, maybe Bethan just needed to relax. Besides, she had nowhere else to go.

She thought of nights giggling in the City Arms, chatting in Welsh, and the easy companionship of people who’d known her forever with a stab of sadness.

She had suggested going to the Union. It seemed brighter and cleaner than the pubs where she and Lucy drank with the other people they’d sort of fallen in with; more people and better music, but none of the others wanted to go, so Bethan stayed quiet and tagged along. It was better than being alone.

They were drinking in The Red Lion again. Lucy had gone to buy a round, but found her pocket empty, so Bethan had stumped up to help her out. Again. She had been nursing a pint of lager and lime for an hour when the group of third year rugby players came in with their blow up sheep and joke shepherd's crook. Bethan knew it was just a matter of time before the Welsh jokes began. She shrank further back into her corner.

It did no good. Before long they were enacting predictable indecencies on the toy and asking Bethan rude questions about her parents.

And just like that, she’d had enough. She didn’t want her entire university experience to consist of following dickheads around, waiting for them to make fun of her. Suddenly she didn’t care about going off on her own. It was scary, and it would hardly be the City Arms, but it had to be better than this. There was only one way to find out.

Without a word, she pulled on her coat and strode up the hill towards the Student’s Union and beyond.

The Locked Room Ch 8

by Jon Peters

Ugh. I hate zombies. I hate their yellow-green, puss-oozing skin. I hate their corrupted, dirty teeth. I hate their milky, sweaty eyes. They look like melted glazed donuts.

You know what I hate more than zombies, though? Pirates. Filthy, dingy, smelly, toothless pirates.

Here’s the thing. I’d never met a pirate until Evelina and I arrived at Crab Bay Restaurant, where Christi was a bartender. After we slogged through the mosquito infested swamps, bloody zombie babies fresh in our memory, we hiked the three miles to the restaurant via backwater channels. In Seabrook, Texas, Crab Bay jutted out from the choppy waters on fifteen-foot concrete stilts, covered in brown barnacles. The slanted roof was a dirty rose color and the wood of the shack rotted away with every coastal wave spit in its direction.

Evelina and I rolled up in our mud-caked jeans and sloppy shoes, looking more like those that were chasing us than we cared to openly admit. The warped, wooden steps loudly creaked as we walked up them toward the front door, reminding me of a sailor walking the plank to their watery doom.

“Here we go, matey” I whispered to Evelina, who snorted before looking over her shoulder, expecting ghosts.

“Place looks dead,” Evelina said, pressing her eyeballs up to the smoke-stained glass of the front door.

“You two gonna stand there like a couple of crooks or are you comin’ in?” came a twangy voice from a second story open screened window.

“It’s locked, you wizened crone!” shouted Evelina, yanking on the door.

“First, I don’t even know what a crone is. Second, are you fucking seventy-five? And third, sorry, I forgot I locked the door. One of those freaks tried to get in here earlier,” came the reply from inside the shack. Evelina stepped back from the door and we waited patiently for our friend Christi to come down from her mountain top to let us inside.

The door croaked open and a young red-haired, freckled woman poked her head through the crack. Christi, her curious, green eyes sparkling, spoke through the opening.

“Welcome, ladies” she said as she opened the door wide to birth us through.

“Thanks, Gwenevere,” I said, using Christi’s middle name as I walked into the stuffy restaurant. She hated that name.

We stepped into Crab Bay Restaurant, with its dirty rainbow flags suspended from the ceilings among old smelly fishermen’s nets, plastic sword fishes and painted pirate figures filling their empty pockets with booty from golden treasure chests. The place really was a disaster, even without the bastardly dead walking about.

And it was home.

Evelina and I hung out at Crab Bay almost every day and well into the night when Christi worked. Sometimes we helped wash the bar glasses or do side work to help out Christi, who usually closed the restaurant. We’d slam shitty tequila and talk about the hot new girls in our lives or the occasional boy. But mostly we just talked to each other amongst rainbow clouds and fish eyes.

The Prodigal Son

by James

Johnny actually had to walk past the bustling Central station to get the train he wanted to catch. It was two miles out of town to the tiny station where there were no ticket barriers. Most trains going through here terminated at Central station, but through some quirk of the timetable every so often a fast intercity would deign to wheeze to a halt in this backwoods nowhere place and Johnny could climb aboard without a ticket. Then came the tricky part – he had to find himself a seat near enough to the guard’s carriage that he could catch the curious eye of the new fellow when the changeover happened at Central station, and then bingo, he was an existing passenger who must already have had his ticket checked. At the other end it was a three-mile walk from the similarly desolate station without ticket barriers, but when your pockets are empty, what else can you do?

What Johnny had learned in prison: by hook or by crook was the way to go.

Johnny was mixed up about coming home again, back to this town where he had grown up. Here was his family home, with the new gym that would always be his room. Here was his dad, his dad’s wife. Here were his former friends, and his relatives, all of those second cousins he had barely seen and yet who had lined up to vocally denounce him. Johnny was an alien to this place. Unwanted, unloved. The prodigal son nobody hoped would return.

But this place was home. It didn’t matter that where he lived now was nothing different – shops and parks and boxy houses – it was the feel of the place. Something in the air.

Johnny blinked, and found himself in Edgewell Street leading to Queen’s park. He blinked again and found himself going through the park but leaving the well-tended paths to begin cutting through the overgrown parts at the back. If it was foolish to have come home then it was bloody stupid to push his way between the rusted links of chain fence that marked the border between the park and Saint Mary’s all girl’s school.

This was Ellie’s new school. It had taken him two years and fake profiles on three different social networks to track it down. One single message and maybe she would have agreed to meet him, but Johnny did not think he could have lived with the silence that might have been her response. Johnny tried to slow his breathing as the foliage began to thin. Caught lurking the grounds of an all-girl boarding school? The words “throw” and the “bloody book” were coursing through his head as sunlight began to dapple the leaves. He was getting close to the place where Ellie and her friends liked to while away their so called free-study periods. Johnny could hear them, these schoolgirls giggling together, their high-pitched voices setting his nerves on edge even as his heart began to thump in his chest.

He was moments away from seeing Ellie for the first time in four years. What would she say to him? Would she be happy to see him again? Would his sister smile at him, or would her eyes be full of that same judgement and loathing of everyone else he ever knew?