All stories


by Jenny

She watches the children in the Centre flock around him, all of them desperate to be singled out, to be included in the excitement these rare visits always bring. She sees him tickle Sarah Morgan and drag out the first smile she’s seen on the girl in weeks. She fights back a surge of irritation.

It isn’t that they prefer him. She finds she can’t resent that, not really. After all, she knows it’s easier to love a personality that blows in with treats and stories over the person who tells you off for standing on the new chairs in your dirty trainers every week.

And she knows she should be glad of the break when he does decide to show up. God knows she gets few enough of those, with things as they are.

But still her heart sinks whenever he shows up out of nowhere, armed with comradely winks for the older kids and chocolate miniature heroes for the younger, stealing hearts.

Forgotten, she packs away the abandoned stickle bricks and Legos and jigsaws and retreats until it’s time to pick up the other pieces, the pieces that aren’t so easy to put back together.

It’s not even that he gets to be the fun guy, the yes man, the one they all talk about when new kids come to the Centre: ‘wait till you meet Geoff, he’s the best.’

It’s the lack of Geoff that’s the problem, how things are when he’s not there. Sure Sarah’s smiling now, but where was he last week when Sarah’s newly divorced mum and dad forgot to fetch her because each thought the other was coming? And who’s the one stuck at the Centre calling and calling and waiting and consoling?

Muggins, that’s who.

She moves around, switching off lights and turning her thoughts over. She hates the idea that there is a part of her that would secretly love to be the one they are all excited to see instead of the nagging, dull character she has had to become.

Outside the rain is coming down fast. She’s looking forward to an hour’s telly on the sofa before bed, but, turning off the office light, she notices Sarah’s pink bobble hat, her favourite one with the zebra on, hovering below the windowsill. She hurries out.

“Do you want to come back inside and wait?”

Sarah nods. She is soaked through.

“Did mummy think daddy was coming again?”

Sarah shrugs. It is gone 9pm. Again.

“Let's go inside.”

She makes them both a hot chocolate from the instant powder in the tuck shop. Sarah holds out fifty pence to pay for hers and she waves it away, heart silently breaking. Where’s Geoff now, eh?

But as she sits beside the small damp child and reaches for the phone, she feels a pair of arms clamp themselves firmly around her middle and a face bury itself in her stomach and her heart instantly melts.

After all, it’s not Geoff who gets the hugs, is it? He gets the laughs, the excitement, but who’s the one they come to when they’re crying, or hurt, or lonely? Who’s the one that matters?

Muggins. That’s who.

Blue moon tonight

by Lewis

The wall was 30 meters high now. A rich dark black like a vein of coal cutting through the hillside. Lornas back was soaked through with the effort as she heaved another barrow or bricks up the slope. She paused and looked around her taking in the hundreds of men and women straining in the summer heat. All busyness and purpose combing under the pressure of the coming night. This was the last section to be finished and with just hours to spare she hoped it would be enough.

“Kali, where is your father? He should have been back an hour ago, she shouted to a boy way up finishing a row of the slick black blocks.

“He’ll be right man, it’s only 2. Plenty of time.” The boy replied not looking up from the last stickle brick he was forcing into the row. With a final push it was slotted in. “I’m all done here Ma but Gavin needs more, drop them in the bucket.”

Lorna sighed and with a grunt tipped her load into the waiting bucket. She watched it rise into the cloudless blue of the sky. ‘No clouds’ she thought. The moon will be bright. Damn it. Oh for some fog.’ She thought to herself.

She stopped the thoughts from racing away. Turned her mind from the image of those mad eyes baring down, the quick flash of teeth. The slashes of black against the white of the night. This time will be different. They will be ready.

She climbed the cold steps upwards. Cold despite the heat. No light seemed to penetrate the surface. At the top she took up her post; just another watcher on the wall.

To look at she was easily dismissed; average height and build, with a plain face tired and drawn, her short brown hair was scraggy and filthy from her work. She was a golden mile from the descriptions written about her, from the songs sung and the tales told even now, growing and expanding like a raging river from a small spring. So high up and so small on this giant black snake that scarred the once beautiful landscape. A miniature hero doing what had to be done, waiting for the next chapter.

She stood and watched as the sun began to dip. As the workers toiled to finish, and the soldiers team checked and rechecked their defences. As the sun finally dissipated a hush fell. Four thousand people waiting, eyes to the sky looking for the first signs. And then a cry. She looked to the east where the soldier pointed and saw the distant tip rise. It was blue. Minute by minute it rose and murmers rippled across the ranks as they saw.

It was a blue so deep it was almost black against the sky. A blue to strike horror into the bravest of souls. And where was her husband, he had still not returned. She could not help but picture Jenny her daughter, the sound of the hooves beating the floor, the teeth tearing flesh, the look in her eyes. Mother save me. The last blue moon had been devastating. No one had expected the Zebras to attack so quickly. But this time they were ready. She was ready and she would have her revenge.

On The Up

by Claire

Sitting in A&E on Christmas Eve was possibly the nadir of a life of many low points. 10:53pm and despite the early optimism of having seen the triage nurse within 30 minutes, Reg Ventricle was now 5 hours in with no end in sight. A cast of characters had been waiting with him since he had arrived and they were all still waiting. The extremely fat man with blood trickling from his nose, an elderly lady with matted hair and skin the colour of the tiny blue bag of salt from “salt n’ shake” crisps, a young man holding up his own hand swathed in what looked like underpants, and two women hugging each other, both dressed in sparkly flares.

Reg had thought that this Christmas would be good, at last. He had believed that just for once he might enjoy the day like normal people, that he wouldn’t be lonely or ill or desperately sad or in hospital – again!! This year, for the first time ever, Reg had someone who actually gave a shit about seeing him on Christmas Day, for whom he had made strenuous efforts to select and purchase not just one, but several gifts from Amazon. He had, foolishly of course, dared to dream of Terrys Chocolate Orange segments being shared in front of his gas fire, whilst small children laughed merrily in the street playing with their new iPhone.

This sense of approaching festive bon-homie had dwindled sometime around a quarter past his 3rd can of coke from the vending machine. The fat man caught his eye and beamed a huge toothless smile in his direction, to which Reg could only, against his better judgement, respond with a weak watery upward curve of his thin lips. The fat man spoke.

“I’ve got a tiny plastic zebra stuck up my nose. My daughter got over excited when we were playing zoo. What brings you here?”

Reg hesitated. Speaking to strangers was so full of jeopardy. However, on November the 4th, whilst buying sparklers, in an unheard of fit of human interaction brought about by a lethal cocktail of sexual desire and a warm fuzzy feeling he now identified as love, he had spoken to a stranger, with whom he was going to share his chocolate orange.

So for the second time in a blue moon he responded.

“I heard screaming coming from a flat upstairs and rushed up there in my bare feet, as I had just been treating my fungal toenail. The door to the flat was open so I went in only to see that the screaming was from a film on the telly, but in my rush I stood on a child’s stickle brick, which caused me to jump in pain to the side, whereupon I landed on the upward facing pin of a Batman badge, which is now lodged up to the hilt in the ball of my foot.”

“Ouch” said the fat man.

“Reginald Ventricle – room 3” called the voice on the tannoy.

“Your turn” said the fat man “ good luck and Happy Christmas”

“Happy Christmas” replied Reg as he limped tentatively towards his new future.

Once in a blue moon 2

by rob

I fucking hate Christmas. Actually, I hate the whole of December. All the pubs are full of part-time drinkers whooping it up for Christmas and making absolute twats of themselves.

People like Terry. Terry was always a lightweight when it came to drinks with the boys. We’d meet up on the south bank somewhere, a bunch of us who had gone to school together in Cardiff, converged in London after uni looking for jobs, finding them, getting bored with them and then just settling in and living for the weekend. Gradually, though, they all succumbed to careers, relationships or marriage. Some moved back to Wales and my Cardiff Crew were slowly replaced by a shifting crowd of southern English teenagers just starting out in work and eager to test themselves out on one of my legendary sessions.

But last month we were out for Terry’s birthday with all the part-time drinkers. Some of the boys even came up from Cardiff and we met up near the Borough Market. I always get the first round in; after that I just go at my own speed and make sure I’ve always got a pint in front of me as the others scratch heads and try to figure out whose round it is. I got Terry another one for his birthday and, coming back from the bar managed to smuggle some MDMA crystals into it and made sure they’d dissolved. I was bored now and fed up with all the talk about home and how shit the Wales football team were.

I was bored, Terry was pissed. I offered to get chips to line his stomach a bit and managed to smuggle a couple more crystals with the salt I put on them. He said they tasted weird but not bad (‘more vinegar’ I said and went to find some). I was practically rubbing my hands looking forward to watching him come up. He’d have no idea what was going on. Would he be able to enjoy it? I wasn’t bothered to be honest. I was going to enjoy it.

‘Where’s Terry?’ I asked the boys when I came back with the vinegar. Nobody knew, but looking out of the window I could see Terry in just his shirt and work trousers - no shoes - dancing on the zebra crossing shouting ‘Zebra! Zebra. I’m dancing on a zebra Col!’ No driver stops for zebra crossings round here and it freaked me out. I got Terry back into his shoes and jacket and inside the pub, found his keys in his pocket along with sweets, wrappers and one of those stickle bricks kids build things with. I was starting to realise it might be turning into a weird evening in this pub full of noise and all my drunk lightweight friends. The whole room, the whole pub was shouting and squealing at the top of its voice. Suddenly I wanted a kebab so badly. I was feeling lightheaded myself suddenly. Me! Worse for drink… copper bottomed Col, feeling tipsy?

But there he was, pride of place as always in the Borough Market Kebab House. My miniature hero, revolving, at beatific peace and giving endlessly of his brown sizzling body for my salvation. Filling me up with his goodness.

Once in a blue moon

by Dan

Thanks a lot Santa. No.sorry. I think I’m doing it again.

You know, I cant help it, there’s something about my tone that makes everything I say sound like I’m being sarcastic.

When Steve asked me to marry him my heart was bursting. All I said was, “May as well”

And when he announced he was running off with Sian in accounts all I could muster was “That’s nice for you” when the things I wanted to say could have flown from my mouth in a torrent of furious despair.

And now one month later, at 10 minutes past midnight on Christmas morning, as I wrap the box of sticklebricks and polish off the Miniature Heroes that weren’t supposed to be opened til tomorrow, I think about the kids upstairs and wonder if they have enough belief, and try to find words to describe my feelings now you’ve finally repaid mine. What if they don’t? Yeah, Cheers for that you know how to cheer a girl up.

Anyway, Hope it wasn’t too much trouble.

You certainly took your time. I was 5 when i got my animals confused and wrote you the first letter.

“Dear Santa, plees get me a zebra witch can fly, Love Joanne.”

I think my cynical tone of voice may have started to develop that Christmas day when I got a tamogochi instead. Hmm just what I always wanted.

But the thing is I knew you were real and would step up when needed. And that I didn’t need to wheedle and go all OTT.

The next year I sent the same letter, only this time I spelled it right and knew the difference between zebras and reindeers, because my brothers had laughed at me for a whole year about the letter which they had somehow seen. I never really trusted my parents again after that. But the Zebra idea had stuck. So this time I bought my own stamps from my pocket money and took it to the post box myself. Result. Playstation.

I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, it was just my tone of voice.

Years passed. Trainers, headphones and Bungee jumping came and went.

But I never lost faith.

Until this year when I almost didn’t post the letter. What if someone saw? I mean I’m a primary school teacher and mother of 3. But something made me do it.

And something made me come down the stairs at 12.02 and bump intp the big, smelly stripy thing with wings trying desperately to fit under our plastic Christmas tree,

I wont bore you with our magical, timeless ride above the clouds, I guess you’ve been there and done that with bells on, Serengheti passing below, huge blue moon on the left, blah de blah de blah.

The zebra just flew back off again as soon as we got back and though we’d seen dawn in Honolulu, only 2 minutes had passed, as they do in magicland! And now here I am. Anyway, I just wanted to say you know, cheers, ….and that. Love from Jo, 39 and a half.

PS honestly if you could see me you would observe that I’m beaming ear to ear and fat tears are rolling down my face. What am I like eh, Santa?