Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Fox from Hounds

For audio click here 
The lullaby of cricket song and clink of wine glasses accompanied the soft smell of young oregano on the warm breeze. It should have been the perfect summer’s evening. Federico paced across the wooden floor, the tip of his cigarette touching his lips but he wasn't smoking it. A fresh sheet of paper stood up straight in the typewriter awaiting a touch of a key. The wine glass was smudged with fingerprints but for now, it sat untouched. 
Word had got to Federico that they were coming for him, again. He'd wanted to run, but the problem was where could he run to. The Fascists had men everywhere. He'd constantly be running like a fox from hounds until either they caught him and ripped him to pieces or he died of exhaustion. 
There was a knock on the door, Federico froze to the spot, smoke snaking up from his cigarette. He took a drag, listening to the muffled conversations from the other room. Another drag, smoke swirled around his lungs and billowed out of his nose. The door swung open. Federico recognised the two men standing in the stairwell. The fat pig Benavides with a smirk on his face doing this for fun, and the expressionless policeman Ajenjo, doing his ‘duty’.
“Come on you poofter,” Benavides said and grabbed Federico’s arm. They dragged him away, his friends averting their gaze; they all knew there was no coming back this time. 
“Get in,” Ajenjo said pointing at the car. Federico did as he was told, stooping to get into the car and joining three others on the back seat. The two burly men wore the look of anarchists but the third man was slight and timid looking. Federico forced a smile at him, sensing the stranger's crime was the same as his. 
They drove through the warm night, leaving behind the town and heading into the Vega. This was Federico's territory; the fields he'd roamed in as a boy. He could smell the wild garlic and the olive trees, the crickets kept up their song. Each man stared straight ahead, no words were spoken. They bounced along country roads until the car slowed and the door opened. 
“Let's go for a little stroll,” Ajenjo said. The four men were marched single file through the groves until they reached a ditch. 
The clouds were heavy above them, one or two drops of rain fell out of a lightening sky. Sweat rolled down Federico's back. This was his land, his home, his muse. He breathed in the familiar smells as a boom of thunder echoed overhead. The slim man fell forward into the ditch. Another roar and one of the anarchists also fell. Federico tensed. Would he be next? A bang, he flinched but he was not hit; the second anarchist fell. 
“Turn around.”
Federico slowly turned to look at the firing squad. Benavides smiled at him. 
“And now your turn,” the bastard said. The crickets chirped, petrichor filled his nostrils and the thunder clapped.

This story is based on a true story. Federico Garcia Lorca was a gay Spanish poet, playwright, and activist who was shot by the Fascists in August 1936. Brought to my attention by Peter Harris’s Facebook history page which you can read here. I hope I have done this story justice and haven't trivialised it. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Dear Slovak Hotels

For audio click here 
Dear Slovak Hotels, 
Thank you very much for your hospitality over the last two weeks, in general, you've been wonderfully comfortable and welcoming. Let me congratulate you on having tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms; this is a real improvement on recent visits. However, there were a few things I noticed that I think could be improved upon. 
Firstly, I would be grateful if you would put the towels in the bathroom where they are needed, not on the bed where they are not. Yes, it looks lovely to have an elephant made from towels on the bed when I come in the room, but this aesthetic feature paled into insignificance when I was sopping wet in the shower having forgotten to bring said towels into the bathroom. There I was drying myself with the bath mat, while the beautiful towel butterfly was untouched on my bed. 
Secondly, would it be a good idea to put electricity sockets next to the bed? Surely most travellers have phones or computers that need charging after a long day’s travelling. And most of us use our phones as alarm clocks, so we want them close to the bed not in the furthest flung corner of the room that you need google maps to reach. Also, may I suggest not putting the sockets underneath the large, immovable desks. Although I was proud to break the world limbo dancing record in order to plug the phone in, the damage it did to my back was not worth the glory.
Finally, I realise I shouldn't teach my grandmother how to suck eggs, but I'm not quite sure you've got the hang of how to make a bed. Folding a duvet in half and then laying it on the bed lengthways is pretty, but it is not the most user-friendly state of affairs. It means before I can use the bed I have to open up the duvet and turn it around, thus basically making my bed for myself. I don't go to a pizza place and make the pie myself, so why am I expected to make my own bed. I guess the chambermaids are too busy coming up with towel giraffes to make the beds properly. 
Anyway, I hope you take these suggestions on board and I look forward to seeing an improved service next time.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Poetry Friday 34

Poetry Friday 34.
Poetry 34 comes to you from Prague today. Hope you enjoy these two poems.
For audio click here

Behind the red curtains
Creatures lay
on sheets dampened
by passion.
The breeze
cooling the heat
and fueling the self-loathing.
A lighter clicks,
and smoke drifts
like their minds
wondering on the light wind.* 
She rolls over, sighs.
He pulls on his pants.
No words are spoken.
(this was originally wandering, but I wonder if wondering is better)

Footsteps in virgin snow
I trudge home,
Fingertips freezing,
teeth chattering.
my footsteps scar
virgin snow.
But soon
my tracks will be covered,
my journey forgotten.
The only evidence will be
the scars on your

Hope you enjoyed 34, tune in next week for 35 possibly.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Fence

Audio to follow 
This story works as a stand alone story but is part two of Stand and Deliver
The newspaper lay opened on the desk in the nurses' station but there was no sign of the person who had been reading it. The ward was mostly dark with just a few bedside lamps comforting those afraid of the dark. There was the soft whine of regular breaths and the occasional beep from one of the monitors. On the desk next to the newspaper were a pile of phones, tablets, and computers recharging after a hard day’s work entertaining gleeful children. Nurse Kolinova was soft shoe shuffling around the ward making sure all children were peaceful and content in the land of nod. 
Sister Hejova was crouched on the toilet breathing heavily. She held her heads in her hand and tears slipped between her fingers and dripped onto the floor. How had she been so stupid? How had she been so blind to the truth? Christ, she’d even discussed the robbery with Jana while accepting the stolen goods with a naive smile. The children had been so happy she didn't even think to ask where the bounty had come from. She didn’t think to clear it with her bosses. She just didn't think. But the newspaper report with the description of the stolen goods, the fact that all the chargers were American plugs, it all added up now. 
Now she thought about it, she’d actually never seen Jana do any fundraising. She said she did and every now and again she'd turn up at the hospital with goods or clothes or things for the patients. Sister Hejova wondered if each time coincided with one of the highwaymen incidents, as the papers were calling them. Was Jana one of the robbers or was she just a go between? 
Sister Hejova stood up and straightened her uniform. She had to get back to work. But what was she going to do? She knew what she should do; she should call the police and report the stolen goods. But that would mean snatching away the happiness of the kids and becoming a snitch. Maybe she should go back into the office, close the newspaper and throw it away, never think of this again. After all, no one got hurt, and they probably all had insurance, so we're likely buying new phones etc right now. She thought about calling Jana and asking her to take the stuff away, then it wouldn't be her problem at least, but she'd still know, wouldn't she? 
She forced a smiled at Nurse Kolinova who nodded that everything was okay on the wards. 
“What's up?” she said. 
“Oh, nothing,” Sister Hejova shook her head and went into the office, folding the paper up and trying not to look at the stash on her desk. What would the kids say when they woke up in the morning and they were gone? 

Sister Hejova couldn't sleep. A day shift followed by a night shift usually had her snoring like a builder, but today was different. Every time she shut her eyes another scenario came into her mind. Jana being led away in cuffs, Jana threatening her, her boss firing her, the police raiding the hospital. 
She swung her legs out of bed and got a glass of water. She drunk it, watching herself in the reflection as the rain poured outside. The answer was staring her in the face;  she’d made a decision. 
“Jana?” Sister Hejova said down the phone. 
“Yes, how are the kids enjoying the computers?”
“I know where you got the stuff.”
She waited for Jana to say something, she didn't. Sister Hejova took a deep breath.
“I want to join your gang.”

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The last man on earth

For audio click here 
Nothing moved. No cars, no people, no rats, no foxes. The little patch of wasteland that doubled as the overflow carpark was so still it could have been a picture postcard. There were no lights on in any of the windows, and not a soul stirred behind any pane of glass. Fresh snow glistened in the orangey light, but there were no flakes in the air now. Conrad strained his ears for signs of life; a creaking floorboard, a snoring guest, a running shower but there was nothing. He stared into the night, his eyes looking for any trace of movement to prove the world still turned, but everything was still. 
What if, he tried to stop thinking the thought but it was too late, what if the world had stopped turning? What if they’d been some Day of the Triffid type incident and everyone had died in their sleep or on their night shift. Everyone dead. Katy dead; Stevo dead, his mum dead, Gareth Bale dead, Beyonce, dead. Sweat oozed on to Conrad’s forehead, he took a deep breath to try to calm himself.  The only man on earth. The only man on earth! It was a big responsibility. Was he up to the task? He’d been left in charge of the office on one or two occasions and had just about managed, but the keys to the earth? He shivered at the thought of it and strained his eyes desperate to prove his theory wrong.  Maybe it wasn’t that big a responsibility. If he was the only one left, there’d be no one to judge him and no one to survive him, so he could do what he damned well pleased. He could handle the solitude; people generally did his fucking head in anyway, a bit of peace and quiet wouldn’t go amiss. But could he survive? His basic survival training had been to memorise the phone number of the Chinese restaurant just in case, and how to devour a litre tub of Hagan Daas ice cream in one sitting. He wasn’t sure he could cope with hunting and gathering and starting fires to keep himself warm. Then again maybe all he’d have to do was break into the local Tesco and he’d be fine, how difficult could that be? How long could he live on one Tesco’s worth of food? Weeks, maybe months maybe even a year before he’d have to move on to the next one; there was a lot of food in there. But without people to man the power stations, the fresh food would soon become inedible, the stench would be awful and the flies would be all over the meats and fish and cheese. It would be a health hazard. He’d have to start with the fresh stuff and go on to the canned goods. At least Tesco stocked lighters so he could start a fire and duvets so her could stay warm. He may as well start smoking again too, it was free. Who would care if he had bad breath or was trying to kill himself? What if others were alive though? Being one of a few was worse than being the only one. He knew how it would go. People would get territorial, guarding their food and water. Conrad was a better lover than a fighter and judging by Katy’s looks of disappointment he wasn’t much of a lover. How would he survive in an 'every person for themselves world', when he could barely survive a crowded Primark store on a Saturday afternoon? This was not good, not good at all. He couldn’t breathe. No, he’d forgotten to breathe. he gulped in the stale air of the hotel room, reoxygising himself. Oh god, the dogs. If the dogs had survived, then they would be hungry and come looking for him. Conrad hated dogs at the best of times. Would they hunt him down like a dog? But what if they’d died too? There’d be dead dogs everywhere. Why was he thinking about dead dogs? He should be wondering what to do with all the dead bodies that would be starting to stiffen already. Soon they would be rotting. The stench worse than the supermarket. He looked up at the sky. Why me? He asked a god he had no faith in. Why didn’t you kill me along with the rest of them? Why am I the chosen one? Chosen? He was always the last to be chosen' Now he was the last to die.
A light came on in the house opposite, a dog ran across the wasteland, a whistle echoed from outside, snow started to flurry in the air. More lights came on and a figure followed the dog and checked a screen while the dog did its business. The town was waking up;  life was beginning to return to Conrad’s photograph. He wasn’t the last man on earth, he wasn’t even one of the few last people on earth. he climbed back into bed and closed his eyes. his heartbeat slowly returning to normal. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Stand and Deliver

For audio click here 
The trees were lost in the mist that turned to water on the pines and dripped down onto the men and women assembled below. The temporary traffic lights glared green on the road in front of them and an owl hooted somewhere in the forest behind. 
“It's on its way,” Jana said, tossing the mobile phone to David, and wiping damp hair out of her face. The headlights emerged from deep in the darkness, growing bigger and bigger as the coach approached. 
“Now!” Jana said and David pressed a button on the phone turning the lights red at both ends of the long, gently curving bend.
The coach was now looming out of the fog. For a moment Jana thought that it hadn't noticed the lights, but then it slowed and shuddered to a halt. 
“Patience,” Jana said to her troops. 
Three, four minutes passed. No one moved a muscle. Jana could see the driver look at his watch, next he’d flash his lights, then finally, he'd get out.
“Remember, no one gets hurt unless we have to,” Jana said.
Five, six, seven. The door opened and the driver waddled towards the traffic lights, trying to find someone to explain what was going on. 
“Now,” Jana said.
Big Tomas jumped out of the trees, took the driver by the arm and led him further down the road away from the coach.”
“Don't worry,” Jana heard Tomas say. “We're just going for a little walk.”  She smiled, Tomas, the gentlest of giants.  She signalled the rest of the crew who swarmed onto the bus. 
“Our man's got your driver,” Jana said. She didn't raise her voice; she didn't have to. 
She watched the passengers struggle for the phones, they all wanted to play the hero and call the cops. No chance, no signal here for miles around. She grabbed a pudgy arm and held it up. “If I see another of you try to text or call, I'll make sure you can't text for a few weeks until your fingers heel. Understand?”  
The passengers nodded and took thumbs away from screens. 
“If you want your driver to stay alive, do what we say. Put all phones, computers, iPads, wallets, cameras in these sacks, including leads and chargers. Oh, and if you have a necklace, watch or ring that's worth a few bob, drop that in too, if you please,” her English was getting better.  
The team walked down the bus with the sacks. Jana smiled as the bags filled up. She was pleased no one was trying to play the big guy, she hated breaking people's thumbs, the crack still made her a bit squeamish.
Outside the bus, Lucie and Honza had dismantled the temporary lights and taken them into the woods. The task was nearly over. 
“Let's go,” Jana said. The gang trooped off the bus with their bounty. 
“Remember, we still have the driver, and we have the bus keys, anyone thinks about playing the hero...” She let the words trail off, much better to let people use their imaginations than give specific threats. She clambered off the bus and nodded at David who pressed the button to turn the lights green at the other end of the bend. Lukas and Honza would soon be there to dismantle them, and then Tomas would let the driver go. 

“Thank you so much, Jana, ” Sister Hejova smiled. “Look at them.” 
They stood in silence watching the kids playing with their new digital equipment. 
“Sorry that they are secondhand,” Jana said. 
“Do they look like they care?” The nurse replied. They watched the kids play. “Hey did you hear about that attack on the American tourists?”
Jana shook her head. “What a world we live in.”
“But then there are angels like you. Thank you, Jana.” 
Jana grinned again, patted the nurse on the arm and wondered just how long it would take for her to put two and two together. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

The railway station

For audio click here

I wondered what they were waiting for, why didn’t they just go in for the kill right away? There were four of them stationed around the vestibule, quite easy to spot even for an untrained eye like mine. The guy in the cap leaning against the ticket machine furiously chewing gum; the older guy with the yellow-grey moustache leaning on a pillar; the woman in the black leggings stood just behind me; the young chap in the shell suit who stalked around like a caged polar bear. They exchanged nods and smiles and winks, a whole language in gestures, communicating their intentions.
They were targeting the three Italian tourists who were standing to my right checking, phone, their phone and their tablet. The tourist looked like they’d missed their connection or their pick up hadn’t picked up. They were sitting ducks with their expensive electronics clearly on display. I wondered how this would go down. A walk past and snatch the items, gone before the Italians had even realised it? Or maybe wait until the devices were stowed away and then a more subtle distraction pickpocket routine. My gaze moved from each of them in turn. I was making sure I wasn’t their target and wondering how I could foil the attack. Who am I kidding? I'm not hero material, and I’m certainly not agile enough to give chase to professional criminals.
Their winks and nods continued; they were biding their time, patience was their virtue. They'd taken me in now and knew that I'd clocked them, but that didn't seem to perturb them. The stalker kept stalking, the chewer kept chewing and the woman kept playing with her tatty leggings. Meanwhile, the Italians kept sitting like ducks. It was only a matter of time before the deed was done.
Their efficiency was impressive; as one, they sprang into action in a way that they didn't look capable of. The youngest Italian was staring at her empty hand, a look of shock on her face. The shell-suited boy had rugby tackled a young lad in black I’d not seen before. He pinned him to the ground his knee was in his back. Leggings woman was cuffing the lad’s hands, while the chewing man had picked up the phone that had sprawled across the concrete floor and was returning it to its grateful, rightful owner. The man with the moustache walked over and winked at me as he passed. He helped shell-suited boy pulled their catch up and lead him away.