Saturday, 30 April 2016

Nine years old

Photo by Simpleinsomnia on Flickr
Several summers ago, I found myself driving past my old primary school. I pulled off the road, and parked my car on a grassy verge. I stepped out and gazed around.

The fields were golden and the sun was shining. Only a few white, wispy clouds drifted in the clear blue sky overhead, and a faint breeze ruffled my hair. I remembered many days like these during my childhood. In fact, I couldn't recall any dark or wet days from my time at that school. Every day was a sunny day when I was small.

I gazed over at my old primary school. I strolled across, taking in the rusty gates and the old stone walls of the school. It was off the main road, down a country lane, surrounded by fields. The school stood in the lee of the grassy hillside where the big chalk horse stood like a sentinel, watching over it.

The gates were closed but unlocked, the chain hanging redundant. They creaked open as I pushed, and I walked across the cracked concrete school playground. Not much seemed to have changed in the intervening years, except that the school was considerably diminished in size. I had remembered it as being a lot larger than it was right now, but I suppose I had grown a lot since I was nine years old.

A memory came to me of a boy, small for his age, standing in the corner of the playground, his back up against the wooden wall of one of the temporary classrooms. He was surrounded by several bigger lads, who penned him in, asking him if he was a mod or a rocker. The little boy felt scared. He didn't know what to answer, because he didn't know what mods and rockers were. Whichever way he answered, he might get hit. In the end he said he wasn't either. He said he was just a small boy with freckles on his face. The bigger lads got bored, left him alone, and walked away.

I saw the same small, thin boy sitting at his desk as I peered in through the window of my old classroom. He seemed to be struggling with some maths problems. Another, more capable child was assigned to help him. The nine year old boy still couldn't make sense of the maths, felt frustrated, and eventually gave up, thinking that some things were just too difficult for him to understand.

I moved along the side of the building and gazed in through what used to be the head teacher's office. I remember the smell of tobacco that emanated from that room. I saw the small boy, sat in the head teacher's office, at a wooden desk, during the lunch time break. He was being punished by the head teacher because he had not written his number 8 properly. Instead of writing it in a continuous flow, he had drawn two joining circles. Now he had to learn how to write it properly, again and again and again, while outside, the screams and shouts of the other children seeped in through the window. He always wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere but in this musty, tobacco scented room.

Once more I made my way along the building and peered through the windows into the assembly hall. The climbing frames were still on the wall, and the parquet floor was as I remembered it - just a lot more worn. Again I saw the same little boy, this time proudly clutching a prize for the best painting in his year group. He went on to win other prizes in school too. All were for his artistic ability. He felt very proud that day.

I turned to go. Those memories were from many years before. A lot of history had flowed since I had last been at the school. I wouldn't be coming back again. As I got back into my car and began to pull away, I glanced back one more time. There, standing by the gates was the nine-year-old boy. 

He was smiling and waving at me.

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Nine years old by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The personal assistant

Carol Forsyth was a very busy woman. Every minute of her time was spent in the office, working as an international marketing consultant. The money was good, but the hours were long. She had very little time for leisure or socialising, and she soon reached the point where she began to question what life was really all about.

Being a decisive person, she placed a job advert on her social media channels. She required a personal assistant who could manage her website, someone with expansive knowledge of social media, and someone who could speak a foreign language.

Disappointingly, there was only one applicant. A dog.
It ambled into Carol's office. She was a little taken aback.
'What are you doing here?' she asked, frowning.
The dog indicated to the advert she had posted, displayed on the iPhone it clutched in its paw. It sat there grinning and panting.
'I'm sorry, I'm a very busy woman, and I don't have time for this!' she said dismissively, 'Shoo!'
The dog was insistent. It sat there, refusing to go.
'I'm not employing animals' she said firmly.
The dog sat there, waiting.
Carol realised this wasn't going anywhere.
'OK', she said, 'Create a website.'
The dog sprang into action. It bounded up to the desk, opened a browser, and proceeded to program in HTML and javascript. Within minutes the canine had created a splendid website, complete with graphics, embedded videos and animated gifs.
Carol was impressed, but she was also stubborn.
'The advert also asked for someone who is good with social media.' she said.
The dog bounced back into action, its tongue hanging out to one side. Within seconds it had set up a Twitter account, an Instagram account and a WhatsApp account. Minutes later it had gained many hundreds of followers and subscribers. The dog excitedly ran around the office in circles.
Carol couldn't believe her eyes. But she had an ace up her sleeve...
'The advert also requires someone who can speak a foreign language.' she declared.
The dog turned to face her and said 'Quack quack'.

[This is a reworking of a very old tail.]

Photo by Will Brenner on Flickr

Creative Commons License
The personal assistant by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Murder in the old barn

Dusk was falling when the body was discovered.

It lay on the straw floor in the centre of the old barn. Seemingly, it had been there at the foot of the hayloft ladder for some time. It was a particularly unpleasant sight, laying on its back, its yellowed teeth grinning wide in a last, frozen grimace of death.

Chief Inspector James Hardiman stood over the body with an expression of mild discomfort on his face. He felt no revulsion for the corpse or its odious appearance however. He had investigated many deaths before. Hardiman's discomfort came from the acrid, clawing atmosphere of an old barn that had baked for five weeks in the heat of high summer. Even in his short sleeved cotton shirt, he was freely perspiring. His intense expression also betrayed a deep concentration. He stood there silently for some time, focused on the body.

Looking on, his assistant, Tom Bower, was beginning to feel a little agitated by the Inspector's lack of action. Surely, he thought, this case was cut and dried. It was perfectly obvious to him what the cause of death was. He was also confident that he could identify the perpetrator of the murder. Tom had a real urge to interject and state the painfully obvious, but he knew better. His superior, in this mood, was not to be interrupted. If Tom so much as cleared his throat too loudly, he would probably be fixed with a baleful stare, and he was already uncomfortable in the heat. So he stood and dutifully waited, biting his lip.

A faint noise made Tom glance toward the doorway, and there he saw Melissa, waiting. How long had she been standing there? he wondered, as he acknowledged her with a faint smile. As far as Hardiman was concerned though, she was not welcome. He had made it plainly obvious that he had a problem with her. To Tom though, she was a very welcome distraction. At the same time, he felt a little concern for her. This would be her first real murder investigation, and he wasn't sure how she would cope.

Melissa was a few years younger than Tom, but in the brief time he had known her, he had already become extremely fond of her. Yet she was so inexperienced in these matters, having only recently joined the team, and Tom's heart went out to her. She remained standing in the doorway, surveying the scene pensively.

Tom smiled a little wider, encouraging her, but she didn't respond. She looked pale and reluctant, and he knew it would be a real ordeal for her to venture any closer. He didn't blame her. Death at any time was unpleasant enough. Death by violence was, well... Tom had been told that you got used to murder scenes after a while. He didn't think he would ever believe that.

He turned his gaze back to James Hardiman, who was now leaning over the body, his eyes narrowed, peering, examining the evidence minutely. After a few seconds, James straightened up, a superior frown on his brow. He stood a good two inches taller than Tom, lending him an imposing and authoritative appearance.

'Not as straightforward as it might seem....' he declared, turning to his assistant.
Now it was Tom's turn to frown. 'Well actually...' he began, but was cut off.
'Y'see, the body didn't fall from up there.' James said, flicking a finger to indicate the hay loft, 'and there are signs of a struggle....'
'But...' Tom tried again. 
'... and yet it appears, from the open, grimacing mouth, that the death was a long drawn out and extremely painful one...' James continued relentlessly.
Tom blinked twice, sighed and looked over at Melissa again. This was all becoming a little frustrating.

'I would place the time of death at early morning,' James carried on, clasping his hands behind his back, and pacing up and down. He sniffed deeply, and instantly regretted the action. Again, an expression of disgust briefly flirted with his face and then was gone. He was enjoying his moment too much to allow a little farmyard pungency to ruin it.

James Hardiman turned sharply to face the door, saw Melissa and his expression clouded. He turned quickly back to Tom and raised his eyebrows quizzically. Tom took this as an invitation to join in, so he opened his mouth to speak.
'Of course...' James continued, looking back down at the body, 'We'll need to wait for the coroner's report, but my deduction is that this death was caused by....'
'Suffocation!' Tom blurted out, unable to contain himself any longer. James looked irritated by the interruption. He decided to ignore the outburst.
'Poisoning.' he said, in a measured tone.

Tom died a little inside. He coughed gently to cover his embarrassment, and glanced over again at Melissa. She was still standing there, leaning against the doorpost now, taking it all in. Her expression gave nothing away. Tom bit his lip again. He hated being humiliated, especially when it was in front of the girl he admired so much.

'Tom, you are such an ass! You can see there's no bruising!' James admonished, like a school teacher to a naughty pupil. Tom winced, and coughed again, blushing. The evening heat and the dust were beginning to affect him now. He wanted to get outside into the cooler air, but James continued relentlessly.

'The bloated stomach, the lack of any other injury - both support my theory.' he said, smiling sardonically. 'Come on Tom! If' you're going to remain my assistant, you'll have to do better than that! You have a lot to learn!'

Tom took a sudden, deep interest in his shoes, noticing too that the tips of his ears were becoming uncommonly warm.
'Now,' James continued, 'We need to discover who the murderer is, and what his, or her motives were.' He looked pointedly at Melissa, who had ventured a few paces inside the doorway.
James crouched down to examine the body more closely. Tom noted that Melissa was closer now, standing just behind his left shoulder, watching with wide-eyed interest. He wanted to stand next to her, to take hold of her hand...
'Any ideas Tom?' The sudden question directed at him made him start, and he looked up blankly.
'Well?' James asked, 'Whodunnit?'
Outside, in the distance, a dog had started to bark. Tom summoned up his courage, and said measuredly, 'It's obvious, I should have thought.'
'So tell me.' James smiled, enjoying the game.   
Tom swallowed nervously, aware that both James and Melissa were now watching him expectantly.
'It must have been... it has to be the farmer!' The barking outside was growing louder now, and Melissa shot a brief glance through the barnyard door. James nodded sagely.
'It has to be the farmer - very good Tom!' he smiled, mockingly, Tom thought. Why does he have to play these stupid games whenever Melissa is around?
She was by Tom's side now. Again, he glanced briefly at her, and thought he caught a faint smile. She was however, taking an increasing interest in the gathering gloom outside the door of the barn.
'James...' she said, almost in a whisper.
James either didn't hear, or chose to ignore her. He was in his element now.
'Death was caused by strychnine poisoning. The killer was the farmer, and the motive was...' here he paused for dramatic effect, and immediately wished he hadn't. Before he could finish his pronouncement, there was a shout from outside the barn.

'Jimmy! Melissa! Where are you?'
Melissa smiled at Tom, and quickly walked to the entrance of the barn. 'We're in here, Mummy!' she replied. James and Melissa's mother appeared from the gloom.  
'Come on you two!' she said, 'It's long past your bedtimes.'
James looked exasperated. His shoulders slumped and he took on a pained expression.
'Awwww, mum... just a bit longer, it's not even dark yet!' he whined. Tom was amazed at the sudden transformation. He was no longer assertive and confident. Now he was a whining, petulant thirteen-year-old. 'Jimmy, you know you have school tomorrow.' his mother said, her hands on her ample hips. 'Now come on, or you'll never get up in the morning!'
'But I'm in the middle of a murder investigation!' James complained, indicating the body.
'And get away from that filthy rat!' his mother warned, 'You know your father told you he doesn't want you coming in here when he's laid the rat poison!'
James, his head down, not even bearing to glance at Tom, stormed off out of the barn and down the pathway towards the farmhouse.

'Melissa,' her mother said, 'Say good night to Tommy.'
'Night Tom.' eleven year old Melissa smiled that gap toothed smile that always gave him that funny feeling inside. 'See you tomorrow in school.' 
Melissa Hardiman turned, and followed her mother down the path, her pony tail swinging behind her.
'Night Melissa.' Tom whispered. He took one last look at the dead rat, and decided that police work wasn't for him any more. He was going to be interested in other, more important things from now on. 

He took off, running across the dark meadow towards the glowing lights of his house.   

Photo by Todd Petit on Wikimedia Commons
Story (c) by Steve Wheeler 2016


The sun hangs high suspended now
like hawk about to strike its foe.
This sphere of fire has in its hour
of glory in creation's power
brushed night and darkness low.
Gone now the painted jewels on heaven's brow.

Photo by Vonderauvisuals on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Dawn by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Alphabet Soup

A is for Aphids
I'll take them some tea
Dad says if you get them
you treat them, you see

B is for Bin
bottomless and black
if you throw me in there
I shall never come back

C is for Cabbage
its colour is green
but it's not ozone friendly
and smells quite obscene

G is for God
who lives up in the sky
He'll tell you He loves you
but He won't tell you why

M is for memory
And mine is quite bad

Photo by Nick Harris on Flickr

Creative Commons License
Alphabet Soup by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.