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Aunty Lucy and I had tea every Tuesday afternoon. Uncle Arnie never joined us; he was always working in his shed.
When he died, she asked the family to clear out the shed. She wouldn't go in, said it gave her the creeps. She said the neighbour's cat got in there once and was never the same afterwards. I didn't like to say that Arnie had probably thrown something at it.
Aunty Lucy stayed in the kitchen while we walked down to the shed. No-one wanted to miss this chance to see inside. We found an immaculate workshop, no cobwebs, no dirt, tools hanging neatly on the walls.
On top of the workbench was a big box with a large red button, beside it was a note written in capital letters.
"DO NOT PRESS THE RED BUTTON"
Of course, with a message like that, it was inevitable...
For several days, Ray was crisscrossing Morocco with his young guide Ahmed. However, he had noticed that staggering wealth inequality existed even in this small country, ruled by a rich kingdom. A computer engineer himself, Ahmed could not find a respectable job with good salary. Near the end, Ray arrived in Casablanca. He wanted to locate the specific bar depicted in the iconic movie “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart and Catherine Hepburn. Instead, he got dazzled by the Hassan II Mosque, the recent wonder of the city. An architectural masterpiece, it was built by the current king to leave behind his legacy. The place can accommodate a total of 100, 000 worshippers during a prayer session. Ray learned that the final cost was close to a half billion Euros.
Ray heard Ahmed murmuring “Really, for whom the country shed its tears, when ordinary people lack food and basic healthcare?”
The dirty trick.
My bosses at the boutique were a husband and wife team who loved telling people what humble beginnings they'd sprang from. They offered me a job when I was happy in another, but convinced me it would be a good move with no commute. Almost two years later, I became pregnant with my first child, and by the end of that week, received a letter saying the 'Company' would have to shed one job. I wasn't shattered, as my new husband was on a good salary. What did irk me, and not for myself, was the way they went about it. I worked with my best friends mother, who was in debt until forever, yet they got us to decide which one should go. I shot my hand up and volunteered, but will never forget the look on her face. She'd worked for them for ten years.
The Butterfly and the Housefly
Once a colourful butterfly rested on a green grass stalk. She sat with her wings closed.
Close-by was a housefly swiftly wiping its fore-arms like a surgeon wiping his hands after an operation.
The butterfly looked askance at the fly and said, “Are you busy cleaning your hands of human cutaneous dead cells?”
The housefly could sense the undercurrent satire and said, “Where did you shed one of your wings?”
The butterfly opened and flaunted its wings .
” How colourful they are! ” thought the housefly, “ It’s true that Perfect opposites make Perfect symmetry.”
“ I drink only honey from fragrant flowers, and cannot put up with bad-smelling humans. But you are almost half human . “
“True, I am of the earth, earthy; but have you ever seen your own colourful wings?” retorted the fly.
“Fie, I see it on my mate as he approaches me.”
Joe strips his first-date clothes and gets into the scorching shower. Palms on the wall, he leans into the stream. He’s in there so long the towels get damp.
He swipes across the foggy mirror, then shoves the hand into his chest and pulls out a beating heart. The heart looks hard and fragile, like china. It looks like something that was dropped and shattered many times, then put back together with crazy glue. He places it gently on the sink.
Joe looks at his beard, at the black curls on his head, torso, and limbs. He inspects the flab on his stomach and the sagging skin on his arms. He opens his mouth and pulls at his tongue. The tongue unzips his skin like a fat suit, head to crotch.
A young man emerges from the skin Joe shed. He is seventeen, glowing with dreams, his heart still whole.
Hero's Journey Interrupted
Nathan had struggled for weeks through this bizarre landscape. His mission compelled him.
The doctor sat with Nathan's family. They watched as Nathan rocked gently back and forth, seemingly shed of all external awareness. "It's Essential Schizophrenia," said the doctor. "He must be brought back. Shock therapy. Do we have your permission?"
Nathan reached the "Jewell Point." There: the sacred wisdom of peace, healing, and living fully in the world. "I must take this back," he mouthed to himself. He had taken care to ensure he could find his way back.
At that moment the doctor switched the power on. Nathan's body convulsed.
Nathan watched as the mudslide began, and the trails and the water around him all changed form and color. Suddenly, he knew: he would never get back.
The doctor looked at the wife and mother, and said, "It's not working. I'm afraid he may never get back."
It sat there, pristine in every glorious detail, unmoving, silently awaiting fresh prey?
Each articulated, hirsute limb glistened in the sun's rays through the dusty window. The shiny abdomen, emblazoned with the name-giving cross upon its surface, was round and plump. This was a superb specimen. A huge female. Males beware.
The tiny shrew, nose twitching to catch a scent, caught nothing but he maintained his vigilance nonetheless. Eventually, he emerged through the tiny hole in the wooden floor. Advancing an inch, his nose still twitching, he still caught no scent.
He also failed to catch the sudden flurry of the onrushing female green cross -backed spider. She hurtled from her hiding place to sink her fangs into her prey. The struggle was brief and the finale inevitable as she dragged the silk-wrapped food parcel back to her lair.
Her skin, outgrown and shed that morning, remained. A perfect decoy.
All That's Left
“C’mon baby… Do it for me.”
Buzzers blared, whistles insisted and colored lights tinted second-hand smoke, sucked up in dirty brown filters. There were free drinks for all the loyal players.
“Where’s the money coming from now?’” The million dollar question, a blast of panic, was tapped back down as the immediacy of “Play” flashed; instantaneously blocking any thought to a ruinous credit limit or her nagging full bladder.
“… C’mon, baby, do it.”
The rent was already spent and without the golden payout building up with every loss there’d be no shopping this month, but she was too close now to stop the misery.
“What about… the grandkid’s college fund? He’s only ten; enough time to hit big and pay it back. It’s all I’ve got left.”
Another spin and another; mindless hope that luck would shift: one last chance to shed a losing streak.
“C’mon, baby, be a winner.”
She had imagined it so many times. How she would walk away, shed her old life, all the memories good and mostly bad, the unfulfilled dreams but most of all him until she was down to her essence, until there was only her left. After yet another excuse and the consoling glass of wine that usually followed this was the fantasy.
Tonight he was even later than usual. Too bad for him that this left time for imagination to wander further into new fantasies.
When finally the door opened she was ready for him with a smile as cold as the knife in her hand.
Life's a Lottery
He'd hung around town for years - sandwich-board man - hand-written messages extolling the virtues of eating more lentils and less meat on one side, and indulging in less fornication on the other. His audience today, the long line of lottery ticket hopefuls patiently queuing for their chance to win a shed load of cash which would either change their lives beyond their wildest dreams, or, according to sandwich-man, send them to eternal damnation.
"Walk away from temptation!" he cried.
"Do us all a favour, mate! Buy yourself a ticket and go home!" shouted a paint-splattered worker.
I bought two Lucky Dips that day and slipped one into his raincoat pocket, musing to myself how, or if, a big win would change our separate lives.
Disappointingly, there he was again the following Friday, although he was wearing shiny new Doc Martens and a Burberry mac.......
Layers of Lies
I could not believe that he would lie to me. He was so innocent and sweet when he professed his love for me, calling me his eternity, his destiny.
"That day I saw him with a plain looking gal. They were sitting at a quiet corner and looking into each others' eyes," said a close friend.
I pretended to dismiss what she told me, saying she could have made a mistake but she was adamant.
The next time, I saw with my own eyes. The plain girl whom I had been losing sleep over. My hands were shaking so badly that I was afraid I might do something stupid. I chose to walk away.
Walking away took courage but I was glad that I need not shed tears over you ever again.
Maple Will Fall
Terry grabbed the axe from the tool shed. Elizabeth was gone, speeding off with her mullet-headed mechanic. But her name was still carved into the red maple in the front yard. They planted it when they bought the house, before Kevin and Allison were born, before the nagging kink in his back. When did she start sleeping with him, he wondered. Did they meet at a convenience store, or after one of her runs around the park? He took his first swing and chipped off a chunk of bark, missing the target. With another, he sliced her in half. When their daughter returned from piano lessons, she would ask where her mother was. He would wait until dinner to tell her. For now, he just hacked away, the letters falling into the grass. When he finished, there was a hole in the trunk, large enough to bury his heart.
It was amongst cigarette butts, behind the school’s bike shed, that we first agreed. ‘I won’t tell if you don’t’ ‘I won’t tell’ Hannah’s eyes were filled with tears that snuck out when she thought I couldn’t see. I looked away and caught sight of the caretaker’s cat staring at us. ‘Should we tell?’ Hannah asked. She placed a shaky hand on my arm to turn me around, but it made me jump instead. I pushed her away. ‘No!’ I shouted, unsure if it was in reply to her question or touch. My voice echoed across the empty playground. I peered out, but no one appeared. ‘Nobody will believe us’ I turned back. She nodded. Who’d believe two known troublemakers over a well-respected teacher? I saw his name in the paper the other day, alongside a photograph of him in handcuffs. Somebody had finally spoken out, but it wasn’t us.
There are rats in the shed, I can smell them. The stink of moulder and piss, the same stink as old age. The rats, they smell me before I open the shed door. I sense their shadows dissolve into the dark corners, like hope in sleepless nights. They eat through the packets of flower seed; leave their oily turds on the folded garden chairs. I put down poison but they’ve evolved a resistance; makes them even more ravenous.
She wants me to find an old walking stick in here. She says she’ll be out in a week, sowing flower seeds in the garden; won’t need the wheelchair parked by her hospital bed. Her doctors tell me the bacteria have evolved a resistance; eating her up faster than they can pump in antibiotics. She won’t be sowing any flowers. Words of hope, I can smell them.
She trod determinedly across the rocky shore, a lantern swaying in her shaking hand. The moon shed a pale light on the sea; the tide had slipped out and only a soft wind stirred.
Against the sky, the once majestic ship lay tipped and torn. Its tattered sails glowed like sleeping wraiths.
All of the surviving crew had been rescued; she knew that. Yet she was curious to see, and to know, how it ended. She owed him that much.
People spoke of a storm like none before. She had been stricken by the sound of its anger; thrashing around their cottage all through that long night.
He’d never spoken much about being at sea; perhaps he had been content out there. She gazed at the wreck though warm tears and she whispered to him, as the breeze stirred the sails into ragged, beautiful shapes.
The story of how I ended up in here
Who spoke first? This story didn’t start with words.
Encased in darkness, we shed our clothes. This story didn’t start with love, or end with it.
We made a son. We made history. But this is my story, not his story.
I will tell you what happened, but you need to listen.
They never listened. That’s what this story is about.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I have a job that corrodes my soul. Sometimes I wish it'll all just stop. Luckily, I see the better days ahead of me.
Recently, I read a piece of land near a forest that looks wonderful. I plan to set aside enough money to buy it. Once I'll own it, I'll built a shed to move there.
Though it does seem far off at the moment, I haven't saved much, I can already see how I would be spending time in that place reading and walking. The thought alone causes me to smile.
Of course, then I remember I haven't achieved that yet, I'm still in my cubicle, gazing at the ad for the property. Nonetheless, I'll continue to make it sure I'll get there.
The cans are a row of eight metal chimneys, lining up on the north horizon. I want to pick them off, one by one, from left to right, with my R700.
Instead, six days out of seven, I head towards them, until I am right underneath. I work ten hour shifts, filling them up 'til they overflow with the soughs of an acrid downdraft that rolls into town ahead of me; nags at the paint on the north-facing walls and business signage of the buildings, and slowly gnaws all the beauty out of the skin of pretty girls.
This factory, helping the town and its people shed their layers until we all arrive at the bottom of some empty truth. A hole being worn in the joins of a map.
Caught between the bar and the church a blackbird darns a dead patch in a hedge with its dry nest.
The only interesting feature of the shed was that time could not flow through it. All sorts of other things seeped in: mold, rodents, you and I. But not time. At first, we used its powers for mundane things: doing homework, training Pokémon while the rest of the school slept. These uses seemed silly even to us. You remarked that Adults might appreciate the shed more; they always seemed low on time. But we understood that bringing an Adult would be a huge mistake. One day, though, you brought your brother, and the next day the shed was filled with teenagers. I heard a girl ask a boy: “So nothing that happens here makes it back outside?” “That’s right,” he said, “nothing.” I walked up to correct him, but he swatted me away. I fell to the floor and tasted blood, getting up just in time to see them undress.
I look at the ladies around me, each of them overweight with folds of flesh hanging from their overwrought torsos. The Weight Loss facilitator, having shed over 75 pounds herself, motions for me to get on the scale.
The familiar panic sets in as I make my way to the front. It has been a punishing week and I was afraid that food may have won. The twisted expressions of the women as I make my way scream sympathy and competition at the same time. With my head down, I step on the scale. Ninety-seven pounds. I had lost another three.
“You can’t keep going like this.” The facilitator whispers so only I can hear. I glimpse myself in the window as I return to my seat and see a fat, ugly woman. “ I’ll do better next week.” I say through gritted teeth and sit down amongst my peers.
Slither and Shed
"Job security is anything but, these days. Holding on to a job can be tricky if you don't watch your back." Words I wish I would have taken to heart.
Shower, blow dry, make-up, best ensemble. Taxi, wait for an elevator, wait, wait, 10 people deep at least. This is one meeting I can't be late for. Our company has a purple slip, it's the one you get before the dreaded pink one. I got the purple. It read: Meeting, Ms. Kapinski, 7:30 am, Tuesday, 8 Oct.
Waiting in the only chair, in the room before her office. "Ms. Kapinski will see you now." I'm ushered to her stark, gray, office. I'm convinced she hears my heart thumping. My mouth so dry, it's difficult to swallow.
She begins, "Ms. Fisk, your purple slip was a ruse. We're aware of your supervisors' ability to shed her ever-changing, slithering skin."
I can breathe.
The Shed's Unlikely Super Heroes
There's a heebie jeebie creepy crawly super hero that lives in our shed. We're not really sure if the hairy, pot bellied creature is a he or a she. Mum says that kind of detail is irrelevant when the finely woven webs protect our winter supply of apples and pears from unwanted flying predators.
Unfortunately, Uncle Joe had an encounter with our hero's nets three weeks ago. He practically flew out of the shed screaming that a gang of gung ho ghosts had brushed past his face. He hasn't been back since.
Mum believes in ghosts, too, now. She says to leave them be. If the heebie jeebie creepy crawly is happy to share the shed, and the ghosts are keeping the lid firmly on the homemade scrumpy brew, there's nothing more to be said about Uncle Joe's frightful encounter. Mum says Uncle Joe will be back, when he's thirsty!
What she wants
A nacreous smile. Loud applause. The beauty queen shed one perfect multi-faceted tear.
Back home the caravan was dark and fusty.
‘It’s me, hon.’
Movement from the crumpled heap of bedding.
‘Where you been?’
She stuffed her tiara into the cupboard.
‘Won a beauty contest.’
‘Yeah. 10 grand.’
She sat on edge of the bed.
‘We could go somewhere, hey?’
She found his face and kissed flaccid lips. Yelped at a stabbing pain in her thigh. She found the needle and threw it against the wall.
The beauty queen sat on the bottom step of the caravan. The sky was the colour of sulphur.
‘I meant it about world peace.’
She watched a fox upturn a dustbin and waited for the moon to rise.
On the drive back from Hofuf, we needed a comfort stop.The nearest service station, we told our driver. Next to a mosque, beside MacDonalds. The facilities were bleak. We followed our noses. The experience less comfort, more watershed. Marianne, who is Belgian and dramatic, threw hands in the air and exclaimed, "Moi, je préfère le désert." No door, cistern broken, seat missing, water covering the floor, paper everywhere. The desert breeds companionship of the most intimate nature and we were in this together. We blocked the doorway. Arms spread wide, abaya sleeves bat winged. Never had voluminous black folds been so useful. In the SUV we passed round hand santizer. Marianne, staring stonily out the window at passing desert. The rest of us, eyes fixed ahead towards Riyadh.
What Maggie Found
“I don’t wanna go in there, Maggie. That ole shed scares me. Maybe somethin’s livin’ in it.”
Maggie knocked on the splintery door, held to the shed by its one good bottom hinge. “Hellooo,” she called, poking her head through the opening of its skewed upper half.
“Maggie, don’t. Stop it.”
“C’mon Peaches, look. It’s empty.” Maggie pulled the door open. “See. It’s ‘bandoned. Just hay and sticks is all. It’ll make a great secret clubhouse. We can even spend the night sometimes when we want to teach our parents a lesson and pretend we’ve run away. They’ll be crying their eyes out promising they’ll do all kinds of good stuff for us, if only they’d find their little darlings.”
Peaches stepped alongside Maggie. A shaggy grey dog, the size of a Koala bear, sat in the hay, a pink bow stuck to its head. “Happy Birthday, Peaches,” smiled Maggie.
What was that, tangled in the dust under the bath? Yellow, papery, brittle.
The doorbell rang. He wiped his hands and went down.
'Came to see if you needed anything.'
Her skin shimmered with youth and life.
He opened the door wider. 'Come in.'
He thought his grandmother would live forever, to spite him. But one morning, she was gone.
When he found it, his stomach turned to liquid. He pushed the thing under the bath. He'd imagined a coffin with her shrunken body inside, buried under the earth, flesh safely rotting and bones turning quietly yellow. Not this, not a papery tangle of shed skin, torn edges gaping, empty fingers curled like claws, while somewhere a she-devil wandered the earth, triumphant and mocking. Shimmering.
In the end, tormented by the thing under the bath, he had to sell the house.
The buyer seemed a resilient, no-nonsense type.
Four years, now.
He hides things as best he can, wondering off to potter away in the shed whenever Tally's harsh words become too much for him - "It’s been four years, Dad," she says, whenever he looks as though the grief might overcome him again, "time to move on." She always was coldhearted, even as a child, watching the others play and then laughing delightedly when one fell over.
Losing one's wife is not something one simply moves on from, as he so often tries to articulate: he cannot simply piece his life back together when it has been shattered beyond recognition.
So when the shaking starts and doesn’t stop, he mumbles something about work to do and shuffles off into the garden, where he knows she won’t follow for fear of dirtying her designer shoes. The longer he can keep her from putting him in a home, the better.
After my father died, my mother went mad, Steven would say to anyone who listened. His wife Diana modified his statement. Her mother-in-law hadn’t gone mad, she explained, she had simply become the person she always wanted to be. Doing things her marriage had constricted, thought Diana, keeping that bit to herself.
Steven’s mother wore more colourful clothes, (unbefitting, Steven said,) she dyed her hair, (ridiculous,) made new friends, (unsuitable,) she travelled abroad, (what’s wrong with staying in a nice cottage in Cornwall? said Steven. You know where you are with Cornwall.)
Diana got to know Steven’s mother better in those colourful, friend filled, foreign holiday years and began to make notes and plans for the day her own blossoming would commence and she, too, would shed the restraints that her husband’s disapproval had insidiously wound around her. She worked steadily towards setting herself free and today was the day.
He booked two seats on the 7.48 to New York. It was up to her. She could go with him, or she could stay. Either way, it was for ever, he said.
The sun had barely risen above Arthur’s Seat when she closed the gate. A dull grey sheen coated the darkness and faint wisps of cold rain feathered her face. She was spooked by the quiet eeriness and strange, fearful thoughts.
Was she being followed?
No-one saw her leave, she was sure of that.
The bus arrived ten minutes late, windows already steamed with commuters and students going home for the holidays. There was still plenty of time. Almost two hours to spare.
Halfway across the bridge, above the rough black waters, they stopped.
‘A lorry’s shed its load,’ the driver announced. ‘We’ll be stuck for at least three hours.’
She saw a plane passing overhead at precisely 7.50.
Rats and bats
Thick dust, old pickle jars, rusty tools and oil cans. Cobwebs dangling in gloomy corners, moths flattened against mucky windows. And a lumpy old armchair.
I would never dare go in, there might be birds and squirrels, rats and bats inside. I would just peek and shove the door shut again. And when I was about twelve I lost interest in his shed.
One night I heard a noise in the garden. A flickering light was glowing from the shed. I slipped off my headphones and squinted out into the shadows. Dad wasn’t in, earlier I’d heard the car engine.
I went down to the kitchen. Mum wasn’t there. Two beer cans sat on the counter and a ciggie stub lingered on a saucer. She didn’t smoke.
The back door was ajar. I listened. A creaking came, rhythmic like a saw. She was in the shed and she wasn’t alone.
What if I could shed bits of myself? Like a snake?
Just leave that outer layer behind on the pavement for someone else to sweep up. Starting with my wrinkly top layer. But then go deeper, shed a few prejudices. Those responses that jump up at some fruity but otherwise innocent trigger …
‘He’s twenty-five years younger than her, you know.’
Of course I know. He’s in it for what he can get. For sure.
How could it be otherwise?
And then that Allahu Akbar, loud and clear behind me at the recycling centre. I looked round, expecting several likely persons to prostrate themselves. But no, there was just a young woman answering her phone. Well, we have some weird ringtones too. Don’t we? Like Alle Menschen Wirden Brüder, and God Save the Queen, or even Onward Christian Soldiers.
Why can’t I become pristine and renewed? Just every so often.
I found it that day, lying wedged between the pavement and the curb. I took it. All day I looked at the penny from different angles, feeling guilty. I rolled it between all of my fingers until they were green. My punishment. The stain on my finger stayed three days while I waited for someone notice, felt sure they’d know right away I was a thief. That night, I took it back to the spot where I had found it and placed it back exactly as it was. I shed the green skin on the way home in the rain.
What You See is What You Get
What you see is a hunched form wrapped in blankets, typing.
The sound her fingers make on the keyboard is a concerto. Followed by silence. Followed by fanatic staccato. You think she's setting words on a page.
What you see is a frown, pressed lips. How unlovely she looks, trying to hold back the stupid words, the neophyte phrases. She wants to be naked and she wants to be dressed to the nines. Both, she wants, for this essay.
"Oh, you're writing," you say.
She wants to tell you it's not just writing, that she's giving birth on the living room couch, that she shed her clothes and her skin onto that screen. She peeled away the chain mail and confessed.
...confessed to strangers who'll read her like a tarot card, who'll see whole universes inside her. You see a middle-aged woman who thinks too much.
"Why is it easier to be bad than good, Grandad?" asked 10 year-old Bobby.
"Hmm," said Grandad, abandoning visualization of the magnificent 4th hole at Forest Grange. "What makes you think it's easier?"
"Well, I got grounded for being bad and breaking the shed window, when I was playing cricket in the garden, and it happened just like that, real easy, I wasn't trying at all. But now I'm being good and trying to do my homework, and it's hard."
"Aha," said Grandad. "I think you've got it backwards. "It's good to learn how to send the ball where you want it to go, isn't it? And it's hard to do something when you're not really interested in it. What if homework were a game? Wouldn't that make it easy to spend time on it?"
Bobby looked sceptically at his sums.
Grandad closed his eyes and continued to the 4th green.
Her eyelids felt glued together. Inside her head a jack hammer beats in her temples. Her back has set like concrete. She tries to roll onto her side to stretch away the pain. She has pins and needles in her hands. Her eyes open wide and she starts to shake and cough. She can see black shapes against a grey light. She remembers answering her phone. It all sounded so urgent. There’s a smell that reminds her of her Grandfather’s woodshed but more acrid. She wished she were there now, watching him turn wood with his deft strong hands. The silky touch of his polished bowls that demanded to be stroked. Tears spring unbidden. She knows she needs to get out of here. In the distance a tuba begins to play.
‘She’s awake!’ a voice says. ‘There’s been a bit of a fire, in the flat below.’
The frayed denim edges of her trousers drag in the mud. Mud, that squelching, viscous, traitorous substance. Mud, painting her face, embellishing her feet. Still, she moves forward. Leaves catch in her hair, and she becomes a wood nymph, on the run from the forest. Faster, faster, leaving behind all that she was.
There, ahead, sparkling in that dusky glow of late autumn light, a small pool. All of her clothes are shed, left to disintegrate as time moves on without her. She sheds her clothes, her skin, her bones until nothing is left but a consciousness. Inside that pool, filled with small fish who dart to and fro and ask who is she, she dissolves.
She becomes nothing but an afterthought, a tale to tell, whispers on the playground between children who knew. But no one ever tells the truth.
A Fistful of Hopeful Dirt
“Listen, I know it's there. It speaks to me…” I plead, watching my last financing prospect slide right back into Hopeful Creek—yet needing to reveal nothing unnecessarily.
“Not loudly enough, I’m afraid,” simpers The Suit, cozy in his centrally-heated office with on-demand coffee; lardy arse ensconced in a large, padded chair. “There’s no equity to substantiate your request,” he tutts. “You must understand…”
Understand? How could this Suit possibly understand? Gold's dreams demand sacrifices. Blackfly feasting on your face. Nights so long they take up most of the day. A rusted shed for death-like sleeping, pulse semi-frozen in its meagre heat. Isolation so extreme, you begin to speak wolf.
I gaze at the grime ingrained under my nails. At knuckles scarred-up so badly they won’t bleed anymore. Weigh the odds.
“We-ell”, I finally murmur, tugging the rough nugget from its grubby pouch. “Maybe even you can understand this…”
"Let me in," it repeated. A faint whisper, impossible to ignore.
The shed had appeared overnight and now nestled beneath the horse chestnut tree at the end of the garden. Still in his pyjamas, he went to investigate. It was perfect, with a neat slatted exterior and pitched roof that, although a little weathered, was ideal for his current needs. Alex opened the unlocked door to find stacked toolkits, a workbench, a dartboard and even a small fridge. This had been well thought through.
A sudden loud knocking from overhead jolted him, a squirrel perhaps or falling conkers?
Then the voice.
He shuffled around the outside, searching for clues amongst the muddied leaves.
"Alex, what the hell are you doing out there?"
He waved his wife away, she had a way of spoiling things.
Back inside the house, resigned, she called the doctor's surgery to book his long overdue appointment.
Often, musical notes fell out of their mouths instead of loud words. Brass eighths and nickel wholes. Out and onto the kitchen floor. When they were through singing to each other, Rory would gather all the notes off the linoleum and make a collage out of them. On a few nights they'd sing so loud and so long that the house would be filled with hammered metal, and Rory wouldn’t be able to squeeze out of his room. It was on these nights that he’d scurry out the window down the ivy into the shed. In the shed was the space-rocket, made out of brass, nickel, zinc. The notes had many uses. Not just for art. It was nearly constructed, and soon he would blast away from this place, past the hedge, past the neighborhood, away, away. He hoped music could withstand the vacuum of space, but he wasn't sure.
He had wanted to shed his killing name. Prison couldn’t do it, church couldn’t do it. He had left his old neighborhood and still it had followed him.
Then he had started making guns, began when his nephew had come to him with a grudge that couldn’t be settled with anything but blood. He couldn’t even remember what it was about now, only the look of ascendancy in the boy’s eyes when he handed him the pistol. All of his talk of cessation and peacemaking had fallen on deaf ears. But after his nephew had used the gun and disposed of it, the boy had become like a loyal servant.
Others had come after his nephew, each with their own desires. Only then, he had learned, when they wanted something from him, could he tell them to stop using his killing name. After that, he was just Charles.
It was handmade, crafted meticulously and one of only 200 made. It came with a lifetime guarantee. But now, 23 years after it was first erected, the wooden shed that stood at the back of the garden was gradually collapsing in on itself. The misshapen shell remained but the walls curved inwards under the weight of the sunken roof and the windows had popped out of their frames. The beam that ran across the apex had come away from the back wall, creating a gap where light and rain water leaked through. It was no longer used for storage. It was now home to a growing colony of insects, arthropods and mould. The new, steel-reinforced PVC shed had arrived, ready to rise up in it’s place. No rust, no rot, quick assembly, wind-proof, rain-proof, a so-called “classic” design. The best-selling shed in the country. And another lifetime guarantee.
“Okay Guv,” Lenny handed me my shed key, “watertight, under a pile of sacks.” He placed his battered suitcase in the boot of his car and headed for London.
I deal in antiques internationally so the police knew I had contacts. I was unable, however, to help Inspector Hartford with his enquiries other than to tell him what he probably knew.
Fabulouso is a post-impressionism landscape. Not a masterpiece by any means but does have a value being the last known painting by Bercollini.
A lost 40x50cm painting leaves a gap on a wall. The removal of a cherished 14cm, 135 gram Michel Mader Silver Goblet from the same Museum not so noticeable
The painting was discovered yesterday undamaged in an old suitcase in Bermondsey, apparently as a result of an anonymous tip off soon after I had received the code word from abroad confirming payment and safe receipt – Watertight.
Cassie's Lucky Day
‘You deleted it?’
‘Are you sure?’ Mum looked up from the garden bed in which she knelt, eyes wide as she registered the enormity of this crime.
Mum’s a famous writer, and the publisher expected this draft in three days.
My little sister, hothead that she is, had deleted a years’ work. This happened because she’d left her laptop at school and had to look at Facebook.
You understand the sky would fall in if she didn’t, that traffic and trains would stop in London forever unless she found another computer. Her daily fix of social media was paramount.
Less than two hours ago, my kind-hearted mother had said, ‘Use mine.’
Scrambling to her feet, mum shed her gardening gloves and raced inside.
Pushing aside textbooks, Mum spotted the USB blinking on the side of the computer.
‘Go upstairs. Do your homework, Cassie, it’s your lucky day!’
I can't remember it now, but there was a time when we almost broke up. That's what you told me.
We were on a bench, cathedral above us, gravestones cold in the evening air. Was I sobbing? You said I was.
Funny how memory works. I have absolutely no knowledge of this occasion. Apparently, you went to a friend’s to say it might be over. Later that night, I poked my head around the door and offered you a cup of tea. We got married three Easters later.
Funny how trauma works. Your sharp words that cut me that night, the tears shed, the cathedral. All of it long since erased, dug deep into the dark of me. There it will stay forever.
You died seven years ago today.
There must have been a moment, one fleeting second in this fleeting life, when I found out. But I can't remember.
Looking After the Pennies
Mum and Dad worked for every penny. Even when they were desperate, Great-Granddad had deaf ears.
'Worked 'ard all me life. You do the same.'
Mum is selling the house, downsizing now Dad's no longer with us. I'm renting with a mate, so I'm okay.
Great-Granddad's estate - for want of a better description - is being sorted. The house won't be worth much. Damn place is falling down.
The fire broke out in the middle of the night. It gutted the house. That's one job less!
Antiquated electric wiring, the fire chief said, not much left. They did find something in the old outhouse, though. A sturdy box, hidden beneath a metal trapdoor.
I bet Great-Granddad's turning in his grave to think Mum's got her hands on his 'ard earned dosh.
'Always knew the old devil had a shedload' was all Mum said.
The shed was dad’s sanctuary from the world. Occasionally we’d gather at the entrance and peer over each other’s shoulders at his little camp-bed with the matching red lamp and kettle beside it, as he stood at the window staring out beyond the smeared glass toward the house, where my mother sang as she washed the dishes and ironed our clothes.
The first boy I loved once asked, “what’s so good about that shed?”
Of course Dad died in there. We found him all twisted up on the floor beside the camp-bed with the radio still on. When my mother moved in with us, we put their house on the market and went down that autumn with hammers and other tools that dad had never kept in his shed, and we tore it down, piece by piece, then loaded it in the car and drove it to the tip.
The diaphanous cloud drifted across the face of the moon, clearing to reveal a gibbous disc that shed its cold light across the cliff, brilliant reds and vibrant yellows of the day subdued to pallid hues in the stark, grey landscape.
Close to the edge, her slim silhouette deep black against the rippling bright shimmer that stretched from the horizon beyond, she stood motionless.
I came close, knowing that the end of an impossible romance had come. One small push and she would be gone from my life. Another silent step towards her: and, sensing me, she turned to embrace me, pulling me close, her lips soft on mine.
Her one step back pulled me forward again: and without a sound we both spiralled downwards, locked in everlasting embrace, shed of all our impossible dreams. Leaving spouses in angered grief.
Crawling Under My Skin
The first time I shed my skin for you, soothing relief wafted as a cool breeze gently caressing a sunburn’s blisters. Emerging fresh and clean, suddenly anything seemed possible. Colors seemed brighter, even as late afternoon’s golden shadows cast, fields of lavender gently swaying. Ah.
Too tender to travel beyond the hill’s crest, I settled for a sad little field mouse, a serpent’s appetizer, reminding me of you, bitter, like swallowing a pinecone. Curling up, I fell into a deep sleep, intruded by uninvited grinning guests, scampering just outside of my reach, as I twisted left then right, a hobbled hunter. Hot pinpricks spread under my skin as our battles played out, a movie reel fit for only the most depraved theaters. Itching to crawl out of this demon’s straitjacket, you, my starlet, held me tight as you flickered on the screen.
Coming of Age
Darius dug his ceremonial grave under the watchful eyes of his parents. He had chosen the space between his parents and his aunt’s markers because they survived the ordeal, as would he.
As the spade forged the six-feet long, six inches wide, and six inches deep hole, his eyes sparkled, and he laughed despite his racing heart.
At nightfall, the party ended. He stiffened his spine, and collected his duffel holding clean clothes, and potions to alleviate the pain. His mother nodded encouragement, and his father thrust out his chest. Darius received the tribe’s blessings with a nod, no longer the hellion of whom they despaired.
Far from the compound, in the safety of the sacred cavern, Darius strove to relax, eager to instigate the process. Once he shed his skin, he would be a fully-fledged citizen.
Tomorrow he would return to the tribe a man, and bury his childhood.
Like a snake
The stress of fighting broke me out in hives. Tiny red blisters spread from the centre of my palm to my fingertips until every word I thumbed into my phone was stinging sharp and left me aching.
A silence spread across the weeks and months. The sores burst or dried out until my hands were a wreck of cracked skin that itched to go another round. All the money I was saving went on coconut oil and steroid cream. I rubbed and massaged my old skin until it was ready to shed.
My palms peeled. The skin thinned and crinkled then curled back to reveal raw patches of red. I couldn't bear to be touched. I tugged at a half-dried flap of flesh too soon and it clung tight. I tore it free, watched as the blood welled up and thought of you.
Pay it Forward
Drink and medicine did not mix, so they’d moved to Texas. Billy didn’t remember the fancy home and gracious living the family had known in New Orleans.
“He’d been a good doctor,” his mother would say.
Liquor continued to rule, and the family struggled. His father asked too much of the boys and when they didn’t measure up he took them behind the wood shed. There the whiskey weighted his hand and blurred his judgment so sometimes their mother would have to interfere.
And would come away with her own marks.
At sixteen Billy ran away to be a cowpuncher. He drove longhorns up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas.
In New Mexico he met my grandmother. A refined and educated woman, like his mother.
She saw in him a tough, handsome adventurist, and thought that was what she wanted.
Until the first blow came, soon after they’d tied the knot.
"Are you heading out to the shed again?" Her voice scratches at the inside of my ears like a cockroach trying to squeeze under a door.
I nod, afraid to speak in case my tone gives away my disdain.
"Sometimes i think you love that old car more than you love me." She follows with a laugh, but there is a hint of uncertainty. She waits for me to laugh too, but I just nod again and leave before I scream.
We were so in love once. Now our love is like the gnarled VW hoisted up in my shed. Unfortunately I only know how to fix one of them. There is no parts list for our relationship, no amount of new paint will cover up my feelings towards her. The moment she cheated on me she tore out the engine of our marriage, and now it sits stagnant, rusting.
Time waits for Norman
"A time machine?" "Yup." "No way." "I kid you not, honestly." Norman stood proudly outside the big wooden box. One hand opened the door while the other gestured for Tommy to enter. "I'm not buying it. You're winding me up." "Maybe but you'll have to go in to see." Tommy let out a sigh and allowed his feet to enter. The rest of his body duly followed. "If this was a sci-fi film, it would seem bigger on the inside." As it was, it didn't. In fact if anything it was smaller than it looked. The cross panels made the walls jut out and as Hogarth followed his friend in, the two of them found themselves squashed together. "Norman?" "Yes." "It's just a shed really. Isn't it?" Norman nodded but wore a mischievous smile. There were no windows, the door was closed. He gestured for Tommy to leave. "After you."
At the bottom of our garden was the shed, beyond that the river. Me and Steve pushed the shed out onto the river one morning to escape the screaming and fighting.
It floated like a boat but looked like a tiny house and our favourite thing was to sit on the wooden porch in the sunshine drinking cola and waving to the fishermen on the banks who had never seen a floating shed. It made Steve slap his thigh and laugh something fierce the way they stared like large mouth bass. We floated that shed all the way to the ocean and when we got there we floated it all the way to the other side and we continued to float it to wherever we could get it to float to.
It sits at the bottom of my garden now, next to the river, but Steve's added an outboard motor.
In your youth it was easy to wake; now lethargy wraps around you, suppressing your desire to leave. The world outside is harsh, it reminds you, your life a daily struggle. But it begins; the first flutterings of an itch.
In moments you're engulfed by the pricking, burning, crawling feeling. Even as you wish for just a little longer, you knew this time would come. The itch shan't be denied, cannot be ignored.
Reluctantly, you stretch, your limbs stiff and cold. With an effort, you shed your protection, its residual warmth fading. You're mourning when a ray of sunshine hits your wings.
One final stretch, little Brimstone, before you fly away.
Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Via Knitwear
The dog had been shedding again, but that was okay because it gave Lily more material to knit with.
Click-clack went her needles, stitching together strands of hair from Kevin, her bearded collie, to make a scarf for Kelvin, her bearded husband.
Kelvin watched, mournfully. He didn’t want a scarf made of dog hair. He hadn’t even wanted a dog. He was allergic to them. But getting one had been part of the deal they’d made so he could come home after his affair with Janet from the pub went down the pan.
‘It’s ready! Try it on!’ she chirped.
Kelvin slipped it round his neck and immediately felt screamingly itchy welts rise up around his collarbone.
‘It’s great, love. Thanks,’ he said.
‘Maybe you can wear it to the pub,’ said Lily.
‘Yes, love,’ said Kelvin.
Lily smiled, gathered more hair, and began to knit Kelvin a hat.
The soles of his shoes squelched the moisture of Manchester and the hangover that was the UK. Santorini was baked hard and bright as a diamond in the sun. Blue white village houses vied for pole position as they tumbled downhill towards the sea; cooling green and comfortingly deep. The sweat pooled in the small of his back while the skin on his nose began the slow business of turning taut and red. Squinting, he could see the haze of small boats teasing the horizon, his among the pack heading back to the mainland. The finality struck. Suit, tie and shoes marked him out, stark against the landscape, a stranger in a stranger land. Looking down at the slope, he could see the translucent skin of snakes' shed between the stones. Manchester was long gone. Slowly he peeled the dampening jacket from his body and dropped it on the boulders.
It sleeps in the crook of my arm, head nestled into my chest. It's been three days now but we're surviving.
I peel small strips of bark from the trees and it sucks the green tinged sap from the wood. Drops of water shed from the tips of leaves, I open its mouth to catch them.
It cries sometimes. I think its the wind, brawling in the trees above us. I cup its ears and after a while it stops. Looks up at me. Smiles.
Under shelter, I tell it stories. They fall from my mouth, inviolate and beautiful. These days seem to pass like years of dreaming and forgetting.
It's funny. Back home. My name scrawled across newspapers. Official files, rubrics, questions, answers, stories - my name. Pages and pages of my name.
Those same pages. Born here. Made from this very wood.
Her Pride and Joy
Heather read the headlines of the Penyard Gazette. Another fatal accident on the A49. A lorry had braked hard as the vehicle in front unexpectedly turned off towards the village. The lorry had consequently shed its load across the main road. It was carrying crates of potatoes to the crisp factory and the debris had caused a pile-up behind. One car had overturned and the driver was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
The lorry had a dash cam so the driver who had made the dangerous manoeuvre could be traced. Heather bit into a Digestive. A photo of an eau-de-nil Morris Minor with a nodding bulldog on the hat shelf. Its number plate was obscured but there was a police number to ring if you recognised the vehicle. Heather looked out the window at her pride and joy and wondered if there was time to get a respray.
The Secret Garden
They say the man in the shed writes books. They say he did something awful to his wife. They say he hides the horror of his actions in the pages of his work. They say the man in the shed is mean to his kids. That what he does to them isn’t funny. But everyone laughs at his stories.
The man's garden is full of carefully tended roses. They grow up artfully placed trellises winding a vaulted perfumed tunnel to his writing temple. But after the first cold night of autumn, their blood red petals cloak his closely trimmed lawn, where tears of dew glisten in the chill light of morning.
The final chapter
I rushed inside, the rotten wood door swinging to on its hinges to hide me away. A scatting of leaves following me in as though there was no where I could be alone. It was here I let out my grief, unburdened myself and allowed the tears to come in a wave of hysteria.
The gloomy shed was the only place to seek comfort. In a house full of happy laughs and the chaos of stroppy teenagers, it was here I came to escape and seek solace.
I loved them all, but I knew my time was up. They’d be devastated. How I’d hidden it so well; the appointments, the feelings I’d buried so deep, the angst that followed the final decision I could make for myself. I wondered if they’d forgive the lies and deceit.
The Girl Who Just Wanted to Help
Hooks hang in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Big iron hooks, butchers’ hooks, and hooks from a boat long ago.
“Go and fetch me the fertilizer for the tomatoes,” says Grandpa, winking; the surest way to get Lizzy to do anything for him. “We want them to be the biggest, juiciest, best tomatoes in The County Show.”
Six year old Lizzy loves making Grandpa happy, wants his tomatoes to win. The bright yellow can of fertilizer, with a black skull and crossbones on the side, is in the shed, on the highest shelf; far out of Lizzy’s reach.
Lizzy does the one thing she’s been told never to do; she stands on a rickety old chair. On the very tip of her toes.
The chair tips. Lizzy is caught by the wrist on the sharpest hook. Annoyed, Grandpa finds her lifeless body half an hour later.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Carol Leggatt, Catherine Howard, Christine Collinson, Christine Hayes, Christine Nedahl, Clara Mok, Colin Alcock, Craig Anderson, Crilly O'Neil, Danny Beusch, David Cook, Eleanor Marvin, Gemma Callaghan, Hilary Taylor, J.R. Bournville, Jay Bee, Jeanette Lowe, Jeffrey H. Toney, John Dapolito, John Murphy, Joshua Lingard-Smith, Julie Johnson, Kelly Griffiths, Ken Frape, kerry rawlinson, Lesley Dargie, Linda Woodhams, Lindsay Bamfield, Lisa Zang, Louise Mangos, Lynda Kirby, M.D. Jayabalan, Madeline Hultquist, Maggie Shelton, Marjory Woodfield, Mark Sadler, Mary Davies, Matthew McLean, Maura Yzmore, Michael Rumsey, Michael Stewart, Mitja Lovše, Patsy Corbett, Philippa Bowe, Rishee Batra, Robin Hanning, Rory Chad Bouffe, Rosanna Wood, Russell Shoebridge, Ryan Mooney, S. Clay Sparkman, S.B. Borgersen, Sally Robinson, Samuel Dodson, Sankar Chatterjee, Sarah McDermott, Serena Seaside, Steven John, Susan Carey, Tessa Vanderkop, Tom Manson, Trasie Sands
22nd November 2017