The Duck Incident
by Cath Barton
You wake around 2am. There’s a sound outside, a kind of creaking, then a clicking. Your senses flare and you realise it’s coming from the bridge over the stream. There’s someone out there, walking on the green now. A loud squawk gets you out of bed and peering from the window. No street lights and no moonshine mean you can’t see what the person is doing. You shiver and go back to bed.
In the morning there’s a gaggle of people round the bridge. There are feathers from the dead duck (itself mercifully removed) scattered across the grass. A small boy is collecting them, ruffling and smoothing them, back and forth in fascination. You know the people, they’re your neighbours, but they’re jumpy, not wanting to talk in front of the boy.
Someone says it’ll have been a fox. No, a fox walks silently, you say and they all turn and stare at you. You tell them what you heard and they argue about why anyone would kill a duck. Like that, ritualistically. They say the word quietly, because the boy is still there. But he hears and he asks what it means. You, you’re the one he asks. Johnny, you say (you know his name, everyone knows everyone else here), Johnny the duck is at peace now. You realise as soon as you’ve said it how ridiculous it sounds, but the boy nods, turns and scampers off. He lifts his hand and lets go of the feathers as he runs and they fly up in the air. Like so many tiny doves.
It unsettles the village, the duck incident. But nothing else happens and normal life resumes. A raft of ducks appears on the stream. Then one night you wake at 2am and it’s happening again. But worse.
by Kim Glover
She is a kitten herself, tiny head and miniscule paws. Forlorn, round eyes question her predicament. Why, she asks me, perplexed, as she plops her bulbous belly onto the carpet. Her proportions are all wrong, giant beach ball in the center with four itty bitty legs, a head and a tail poking out at odd, uncomfortable angles. Flailing. Where to put these appendages now that there is a boxing match happening inside of her? Her skin ripples and bulges and contracts with each little roll. Punch. Wrestle. Thump.
She sighs. Meows. Gets up, paces. Circles around and around, hoping that maybe this time when she finally plops down she will miraculously find comfort in the same spot she has tried before. Then she sighs, meows, gets up, paces. Circles around and around, hoping . . .
And then, finally. She discovers the nest I have carefully crafted for her, pillows and blankets in a dark, safe corner. Food and drink and litter box nearby, she waits. Does she know what she’s waiting for, or is she just as innocent and unsuspecting (clueless?) as our 15 year old neighbor girl who recently went straight from riding roller skates with pigtails to waddling and sighing and asking for help to tie her shoes?
I’m sure she’s not capable of this. Just a baby herself! A kitten. Needy. Helpless. She confirms my suspicions as they arrive, one little Jellybean at a time. Whoa, she tells me with huge, surprised eyes. This is not what I signed up for! Help me.
And just when I think I will need to intervene on behalf of this Baby having babies, she purrs. Bathes them with her scratchy tongue. Says to me, Look! I made these! These are mine.
Surprised eyes become proud eyes. Life is renewed.
by Stephen Lodge
Eddie really appreciated Shaun’s kindness in offering to house-sit his place down at Lower Wieldingaxe, while he was away at the Luxembourg Soft Cheese and Jazz Festival. Eddie was hoping to see Carmela and Heather singing live but neither made it to the Festival, which disappointed him greatly. And, frankly, that wasn’t the only thing.
He certainly was not expecting Shaun to throw a party in the house which after midnight spilled out onto the village green and, in Vincent’s case, into the duck pond. On his return from Luxembourg, it took Eddie a while to piece together all that had happened in his absence as none of his neighbours would talk to him. Eventually his neighbour, Edgar shouted at him that Shaun was a maniac who should be banned from Lower Wieldingaxe forever.
Edgar himself, it seems, was missing a sofa and his dog. He had found his front door in a skip near the vicarage.
Eddie was finding it both difficult and impossible to get through to Shaun on the phone. Then in the mail, Eddie received some invoices from Shaun from up in London. For a start, Eddie didn’t even know the coffee shop in the town centre did a coffee and doughnut delivery service. And then there was the invoice for the night vision goggles Shaun had bought to watch for possible intruders.
by Judith Noguerola
He saw the village for the first time in his life. It was weird because he had been there a lot of times and didn’t remember it. He was a long distance runner and he had got used to run more than 20 km every Saturday. Maybe he had taken a wrong path. He started to observe the cosy houses in that idyllic landscape. It was a calm environment with a strange lack of living species.
He felt a sword and sweetened scent in the air. He relaxed and fell asleep, lying on the ground.
When he awoke, an angelic face was watching him. Her brown eyes and pale skin highlighted delicate features. Her hair tied with a pony tail gave her a youthful look. She was helping him to get up while he thought -What a beautiful girl!!! –
They introduced each other and started to speak. They had a lot of things in common. Both were athletes, liked eating Nutella, admired Miss Marple, etc.
Two days after, they met again in a romantic date in a very stylish Catalan restaurant. She was awesome with her long brown hair surrounding her silky skin face, her slim, fit body stranded out in a flattering pink dress. Her eyes, deep and clever, and her magnificent white smile and educated voice explained what were her predilections, hobbies, ideology.
She was like a princess in a fairy-tale who reminds him his childhood, when he used to dream of finding a perfect woman, pretty, smart, gentle… He had already found her.
She told him about her lovely family, how they enjoyed the weekends at the farm, her devotion to listen to Agatha Christie’s stories from her granny around the fireplace in winter. She grew up happy, going to the rural school, making plans to go to the university… She spoke about her future plans, her expectations to find a good husband and having children.
He listened to her with a thrill of awful admiration. Finally he said he was falling in love with her. He wanted to marry her. A wonderful life was waiting for them.
Her sad eyes looked him, directly and said “yes, we could have had a really good life, but you killed me”.
Suddenly he remembered he had gone to the village to exterminate its inhabitants. That was his job. He got up, dazed, and came back home walking into the shadows.
Feeding the ducks
I watch the old man from my window. Sitting on the bench, feeding the ducks.
Mum said he helped build the pond long before I was born, when she was still a little girl herself.
He comes at the same time every day. Slowly walks around the pond, sometimes bending down to check the lining on the sides.
I’ve only spoken to him once. He didn’t say much apart from – “Keep away from the water.”
Mum says after his wife disappeared he became quiet and reclusive, often mumbling to himself.
“His wife’s name was Lily, but she was no flower. She was a mean old lady who everyone was afraid off.
The ducks keep him company because he doesn’t get on with people that well,” mum said.
I don’t think he’s interested in the ducks. He hardly looks at them when he feeds them. He’s looking for something else within the dark waters.
He putts the bag of pellets on the bench and slowly walks off. I jump from my window seat; I want to feed the ducks too.
I slowly walk towards the pond, I can hear him talking softly to himself, “- Not managed it yet have you sweetheart. Been forty years without fear…”
I wait till he is out of earshot, before putting on a gruff voice, “Not managed it yet sweetheart.”
The wind picks up causing ripples across the pond, I shiver at the sudden change in temperature. In the middle of the pond tiny white gaseous bubbles pop on the surface, carrying a stench with it, even the ducks had gone quite and was getting out of the water.
I drop the bag and run back to the house.
The bubbles grew bigger and more frequent, as if someone was screaming underwater.
by Jan Kaneen
Dark-water, cold-water, dark.
Slip-scales, cold-swim, blood-cold. Hungry.
Up-light, flick-tail, pale-light.
Food-light, Pearl-light, fly-flicker.
Up-dry, too-dry, dry-light. Up.
Past the surface. A thought not a sensation. A glimmer, like the sun? Remember. People, humans. Catch the glimpse, the fragment. Try to remember.
Shimmering faces, human fragments. Remember.
Awake, remember, try to think.
Warm-touch, dry-touch-burns. Disgorged-bleeding-gasp.
So much pain. Helps me think, clear like air, light like air, drowning in air. Gasping to be human. Time to be human, think before it’s too late. Shape, shift, climb inside, possess a mind, a soul. Which one?
Baby hungry-suck, thirsty-suck, no good.
Man, happy-power, too full, good-spirits clustered round.
Woman-mother, love-tight, entwined, too love-tight to slip inside.
Boy, hooked-it, mine-mine-mine look inside him, go inside, cut-it-open, kill-it.
No need to fight, he lets me in…a perfect fit. I breathe… myself again…all myself.
Power, cruelty, hatred, my lexicon remembers itself, reassembling words into emotions inside my angry boy. Clear as water, warm as air. Inside his soul. I plunder his nature and his mind and make them mine.
Looking through new eyes, at the once familiar buildings, long ago houses, my unfamiliar family. I am breathing, standing firm. I focus them into full colour.
‘Your first catch,’ smiles my proud, new father. He ruffles my hair, the fool. The first warm touch for four hundred years. I remember how to smile. I hate him already.
I channel the boy so a reedy voice says, ‘Yes, Daddy.’
Daddy returns my cast-off skin to the village pond. It arcs quicksilver and dips beneath. I breathe again, outcast no more, dispossessed of filthy fish and dung-brown, larval monsters, no longer unremembered even by myself.
It has flooded back. They drowned the innocent girl but they did not drown me.
by Jack Koebnig
The night before it began Kevin slept badly. And it hadn’t been caused by anything he’d eaten in fact it was quite the reverse. If you’d told him he consumed in the last forty-eight hours anything more than a couple of apples he’d be surprised.
He felt wrong, awkward; it was as though he’d been rewired by an electrician new to his trade or by one who should’ve retired years ago.
Yesterday he’d wandered along the High Street snatching glances at the faces of oncoming pedestrians wandering if they could feel this tingling euphoria too. If they did, he said to himself, they’re keeping it extremely close to their chests.
Kevin dressed, took an uninspired bite from a slice of dry toast and stepped onto the street.
A deserted street.
He glanced at his watch; it had just gone 10am. Okay, he said to himself, okay. He zipped up his jacket and made his way to the fountain in the middle of the village. He walked along Petal Street, took a short cut through Carter Lane, crossed Arlington Avenue and by the time he’d reached his destination at the top of the High Street, he still hadn’t seen a single soul.
No moving cars, idling busses, cats, dogs or birds sitting high on metal television aerials.
You’re alone, Kevin said to himself, rubbing his hands against the chilly air. You are very much alone.
He glanced once more at his watch then confirmed the time with the digital clock dangling from a silver chain beneath the awning of Mr Brown’s pharmacy.
‘10:30,’ he said, turning a slow 360 degrees, ‘exactly seven and a half hours to find everyone and claim this year’s Hide and Seek trophy.’ Price of Admission
Price of Admission
by Sarah Vernetti
The words were etched into her skin like hearts on a tree trunk, haphazard and crude and urgent with misguided passion. She met the group in the woods behind the softball fields at dusk, where it was quiet except for the far-off cheers and the cracks of bats.
by Daisy Warwick
Gordon had his hands plunged deep into the clogged roof guttering when he spotted a crowd gathering near to the river bank. He quickly dumped the leafy clump he’d been holding. It wasn’t a job he enjoyed and the thought of some gossip was far more exciting.
Minutes later he’d joined several neighbours from his Friday morning book club, along with a few other of the village’s inhabitants.
“Gordon have you seen this?” asked William, waving a bottle covered in algae.
“No,” he said, taking a hold of the bottle and turning it over, musing at the rolled up piece of paper inside. “What is it?”
“I bet it’s an old secret message from the war,” said Carl, leaning on his walking frame and lighting his pipe.
“I bet it’s a love letter,” said Tamsin, trying to keep her balance whilst her dog strained on his lead.
“Could be an admission of guilt,” suggested William.
“What do you mean?” asked Gordon.
“They never solved that murder in ’74 and remember, they found that poor woman in this river,” nodded William.
“Let’s just open it before we get carried away with ourselves,” said Wilma, who lived a few houses down from Gordon.
William took the bottle and began to tease out the old, swollen cork.
Silence fell whilst they waited in anticipation.
William shook his head looking confused.
“It doesn’t say anything.”
“What’s it supposed to mean then?” asked ten-year-old Carrie.
Gordon thought for a moment before suggesting,
“Probably just someone seeing if putting paper in a corked bottle keeps it dry.”
It wasn’t long before the crowd dispersed, disappointed by the lack of scandal.
Gordon found he’d no reason not to get back to cleaning his gutters.
Oh well, it was only two more days to wait until book club.
… And one for the little boy who lives down the lane drain
by Lee Hamblin
There’s a little boy who lives down the drain, at the end of the alley between The King’s Arms and the pond; that’s the pond Daddy said they once drowned a witch named Lizzy, but I don’t believe him because I’ve chased the ducks that live there, and the water only reaches up to my knees. It’s certainly not deep enough for drowning a witch… a rat maybe… but not a witch.
My name’s Lizzy too, well, Elizabeth actually, and no one ever calls me Lizzy, because if they do they get a Chinese burn!
The boy down the drain was one of his stories too, Mum tells him to stop telling fibs and to eat his dinner; ‘it was ready hours ago,’ she shouts at him. He often eats later than us; he says he got stuck in The King’s Arms with Gerry, and it takes me a moment to realise he’s not actually got stuck…in a King’s arms…with Gerry… and anyway, we have a Queen, not a King. Her name’s Elizabeth Windsor.
But there really is a little boy who lives down the drain; I go and see him sometimes. I say ‘see’ him, but I can’t really ‘see’ him because it’s black as night down there, and there’s always the sound of water trickling. Sometimes though, I can make out his eyes.
If I want, I’ll go for a walk down the lane, sit on the kerb and poke a stick or a twig through the metal grill until he appears. When he talks he sounds old-fashioned, like one of those actors in the history programmes we watch at school.
He won’t tell me his name, but when I told him mine, he said he used to have a sister named Lizzy, but that was a long, long time ago.
The Dog Speaks
by Dawn Lowe
Why wasn’t I born on a ranch in the American West? Rising at dawn to chase cattle, a mountain breeze rifling my hair as calves separated from their mothers commenced bawling, the acidic tang of their excrement assaulting my nostrils—
Truthfully, I live in the English suburbs of Boringham Commons in a two-storey house next to another and another and another, rows of white houses stretching to the horizon. At least I believe these houses are white. They could be purple, green or blue—concepts that are only words to me, as I am colour-blind.
Every morning the family wakes in a frenzy, feeding themselves and racing out the door. They leave me a generous brunch that I nibble throughout the day, washed down with toilet water, but—best of all—they leave the telly switched on to keep me company. What a marvelous companion the television can be! It’s taught me (Sesame Street) to read and write.
In the evening, the children, a boy and girl, walk me in the woods behind the house. There’s a pond where they let me off the lead, and one day I formed a plan to establish communication with them. My flopping tongue could never form their words but, by God, I could write. Realising my paws could not manipulate pen or pencil (I’d tried), and knowing I’d be beaten for slobbering over their laptops, I decided to scratch a message on the pond’s bank.
Eagerly I raced ahead of them and began clawing a capital “I” in the mud.
“Make him stop,” the boy yelled at his sister. “He’ll track dirt on the carpet.”
The girl snapped the lead on my collar and dragged me away. They’d stolen cigarettes from Mum’s handbag and lit up. What could I do but howl?
by Phil Temples
Christina and Nate stood silently as the house burned. The third floor was falling in on itself. The collapse sent a huge column of sparks skyward. Nate thought it looked like a swarm of angry fireflies swirling upwards to the heavens.
No one had noticed the two children, aged nine and eleven, standing on the sidewalk. But after a half-hour of frantic activity, the fire fighters considered the blaze contained. The Captain spied the two kids.
“You kids live here?” He motioned towards the carnage that used to be a well-maintained triple-decker.
“We used to,” Christina replied.
He appeared puzzled by the girl’s answer.
“We used to. No one will live there now.”
“I understand. I’m sorry. Where are your parents?”
Nate said nothing. Christina nodded in the direction of the burning house.
“Were they… in there?”
Christina remained silent. She glanced down at the ground, and kicked at a small dirt clod and bounced off.
The Captain felt sad for the two kids. He, too, was a father. He spoke into his radio:
“Command to Five. Can you come here? I got two kids that were occupants.”
Nate cupped his hands to Christina’s ear and whispered, “Do you think we should tell them about the ‘straw man sacrifice?’”
She cupped her hands to Nate’s ear, and replied, “No. Do you want to go to jail for the rest of your life?”
Nate shook his head.
“Then don’t tell anyone! You know that mommy and Daddy weren’t very nice people. Maybe our next mommy and daddy will be nicer.”
Nate brightened up. “You think so?”
A woman firefighter approached the Captain and the two kids. Christina managed to whisper one last response into Nate’s ear:
“If they aren’t nice to us, we can always perform another ritual.”
by Tom Moody
Many years ago, in the small English village of Chestwin, there lived an old man named Arthur Flitz. Now, Arthur Flitz looked like any other old man that you’re likely to see pottering about in a quaint English village. But there was one thing that set Arthur aside from his doddery contemporaries. And that was that he was obsessed with growing cucumbers!
Arthur lived for growing cucumbers! A world in which Arthur could not grow cucumbers was a world not worth living in!
Arthur knew that he was the best when it came to growing cucumbers. It wasn’t arrogance! It was confidence! The cucumbers that Arthur produced were top-notch! They were the bee’s knees! They were the crème de la crème of the cucumber world!
So you can imagine Arthur’s excitement when the village of Chestwin announced that it would be holding a cucumber growing competition at their annual summer fete! Arthur could not believe his luck! He knew that his cucumbers were a cut above the rest! After all, he had been growing cucumbers for many years – and he had perfected the art!
So when the big day finally arrived, Arthur was so excited he could barely stand still! The old man stood in line as the judges surveyed the other pathetic attempts at cucumber growing. They were pitiful in comparison to Arthur’s!
When the judges finally arrived at Arthur’s competition entry, the old man was about ready to burst! He had already perfected his winner’s speech in his head!
The first judge looked at Arthur’s entry with a look of bafflement on his face. He picked it up and said, ‘This is a courgette.’
‘Excuse me?’ said Arthur.
‘This is not a cucumber. This is a courgette,’ said the judge. And that was the end of that.
by Myrto Zafeiridi
I was always afraid of the pond next to our house. When we were growing up, my brother would tell me blood-chilling tales about children that drowned there and their corpses where never found. Once, he told me a story about an old crone that crawled soaking out of it, covered in leeches, with one of her eyes missing. That night I wet my bed, I was too scared to get downstairs on my own.
When I grew up, I made the life-changing decision to take my family there permanently. My wife, Sarah, was the catalyst. She had decided, and I had agreed, that she would like to devote herself to motherhood for a few years. Then I was offered a job in my tiny home town, 300 kilometers away from London, and it all fell into place. We would move back and the kids would get a chance to grow up surrounded by nature and fresh air.
Our first summer there was truly amazing. The kids loved the place – they had never been there before. Lilly was born there, actually, but of course she didn’t have any memories of it. Mike was only 4, so he hadn’t been to many places anyway.
Soon the winter came and with it all the memories of the sleepless nights with my brother, who was long dead, as well as the reason that I hadn’t come to this house in so many years. The priest had told me it was a hunting accident, but they had never found his body.
I never made it to the following summer. Today, April 2nd, is my funeral. I allegedly died in my sleep.
The last thing I remember is a pair of wet hands wrapped around my neck. I always knew there was something sinister about this pond.
by Jill Hand
We kids used to scavenge for food. It wasn’t as if we could sit down to a cozy family dinner around the dining room table, our father being the original deadbeat dad, and our mothers generally having been turned into livestock, or trees.
Dad would impregnate our moms and then he’d hit the road, Jack, and boogie on back to Mount Olympus. Odds were his wife would retaliate by turning our moms into an animal, usually a cow. Cows aren’t good at preparing meals, especially not cows who later become bodies of water, so we were on our own.
We’d find a bull, or a swan or something, and point it out to Hercules. “Kill it, Herc,” we’d urge him.
“Okey-dokey,” he’d say, amiably, picking up his club.
“Be sure and check to make sure it’s not Dad in disguise,” someone would remind him. Dad had a thing about assuming the shape of an animal when he wooed the ladies. I’m not even going to try and figure out what that was all about.
“Okey-dokey. Herc will check,” he’d say, and stride off manfully. He wasn’t too bright, but he had a heart of gold, that guy.
It was Venus who spotted the thing flailing about in the ocean. It had tentacles, and a beak like a parrot, and big, staring eyes. “Hey, you guys!” she hollered. Check it out! Do you think it’s good to eat?”
“There’s one way to find out. Go get it, Herc,” Athena commanded.
“It looks kinda mean,” he said, eyeing it dubiously.
Venus purred that she’d be ever so grateful. That got him moving. The thing fought like hell, and peeled the skin off his arm with its suckers, but he got it. And boy, did that calamari taste good!