From the Writers' Ink...

Read excerpts of pieces from NWI members

Will by Michael J. Richards

The Tithe Barn, Crowland Abbey, Wendlingburgh, the County of Northampton. Six o’clock, morning, Tuesday, 4 June, sometime between 1400-1450.

“So, Will,” Thomas says as they stroll across the field, the early morning sun slowly creeping up into the cloudless blue sky, “tomorrow you shall marry. Are you ready?”

“Joanna is the love of my life,” Will says. “How can I not be ready?”

“Son, it makes me glad,” Thomas says, patting him on the back. “Joanna is a lovely girl. And you are a fine young man.”

“Thank you, Father.” Grinning, Will brushes a fly away from his auburn hair. “She is busy with the other women, preparing the wedding table. I should keep away – ”

“It is work for the women,” Thomas says. “Why go near?”

Will stops and scratches himself between his legs. “I cannot wait to – ”

His father turns to see what keeps him. “Steady, lad, do not damage yourself. I want you to give me grandchildren.”

“Is it so bad to be keen to share a bed with her?” Will laughs, his face reddening. “Is it so bad to want to be with her every hour God sends us?” He rubs himself, his broad thighs shaking. “I love her.”

“I am pleased to see it,” Thomas chuckles, watching him. “In the meantime, son, keep your hands off it. We have work to do.”

The place is unattended. The Benedictine monks are at Early Morning Prayer. The other men and apprentices have yet to arrive. But Thomas and Will have plenty to get on with.

Inside the barn, they walk over to where several ladders are propped up in a row against the incomplete south-facing ironstone wall. As they are first to arrive, they must place the ladders at various points around the building, ready for when the others get there.

Will grips the middle ladder and pulls it back.

Thomas goes to one on the end. “Why do you always start in the middle? Makes no sense.”

“Get the heaviest out the way first,” Will says. “Then if the others fall, they will not hurt so much when they hit us.”

“More to the point, you can show how strong you are.”

“But I am strong!” He has the ladder away from the stonework with one hand and above his head. “Look!” He brushes his auburn hair out of his eyes with his other hand.

“I have seen your strength before, son. No need to show off.”

“No,” Will says. “Father, look here,” he adds, carefully and quietly putting the ladder down on the dusty ground and stepping towards the wall.

Thomas rests his ladder back in its place and moves nearer. “What?”

“A man... a dead man.”

“Help me clear the space. Get some light.”

Slowly, one ladder at a time, the body is revealed.

“May the Lord bless us,” Thomas mutters.

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Excerpt from And Ghosts Are Real, Too, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from  Amazon UK

The Biddenham Ghosts by Deborah Bromley

In the depths of the countryside, away from the ochre glow of urban streetlights, darkness settles on the landscape like a black shroud on a corpse. Pavements shift and become insubstantial, buildings hug the land, seeking the solid earth to guard themselves from night-time uncertainties. Trees creak and sway as the wind gusts through their branches. Skies gather their clouds and blanket everything with gloom. A waning crescent moon reveals unlikely shadows as the clouds part and close up again.

The night bustles with nocturnal creatures. A fox, sprightly after a blood-soaked feast, trots replete across the field to its lair. A Muntjac deer barks for its mate, then creeps deeper into the woodland to wait. A field mouse, nimble and silent, scampers up to the bird table, huddling to avoid the piercing talons of the owl as it swoops towards the oak trees. Two cats, locked in a stand-off, fur raised, bodies arched, back away and run towards their homes and the prospect of a warm bed by the fire.

The pub, The Three Casks, turns out its reluctant regulars and the landlord drapes towels over the pumps. The door is locked and the lights are extinguished. His wife calls him up to their cosy apartment and he sets the intruder alarm before he ascends the stairs. Two gentlemen douse their final cigarettes, plunging them into the sand bucket by the door, before muttering farewells and walking, unsteadily into the night.

This is an ordinary night. The darkness and the sounds of its natural inhabitants provide familiarity and comfort. Behind the floral curtains of cottages and barns, villagers bank up the Aga, stir mugs of Horlicks or settle on a well-deserved tot of rum to send them off to the land of nod. Or up the stairs to Bedfordshire as they aptly repeat, whenever the fancy takes them.

The village road curves around wide verges then bisects a triangle of green space that houses the village sign, before disappearing towards the church or veering away to the main road. Dusk Cottage, nestled under a thickly thatched roof, secured by an arched oak door, strong with black rivets, looks out over the green space. An estate agent's board announces it is "For Sale". Empty rooms lie behind the thin curtains. Cold grates wait for a new owner to light a fire.

Away to the right, a hand painted sign announces the path to the village pond. The path is the Coffin Path, known to be the most direct route from the old village morgue, located in the gardens of The Three Casks, towards the church and the chance of a proper Christian burial. When sturdy men would carry the deceased the half-mile towards St. James, the shortest path was always preferred.

Coffin Path is dark and empty. Recent rain has made the nettles surge and muddy paw and foot prints trace it towards the silent pond where it creeps further into the night and away towards its final resting place in the church yard. As if on cue, the church bell sounds eleven o'clock.

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Excerpt from And Ghosts are Real Too, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK 

 

All in working order by Chris Wright

Holding the bandages, the nurse stepped back. I looked at the hands. It was hard to think of them as mine as yet, but there they were. A very obvious and angry red join ran between the familiar flesh of my arms and the transplanted hands now attached to them. It felt wrong.

Cradling Matthew in her other arm, Angela reached out to touch me. “We knew it wouldn't be easy.”

“Yes, Mr Burroughs,” Dr Frazer added. “Give yourself time to adapt. For now, let's just worry about how well the transplant is taking. Can you feel this?”

He drew a feather against the back of my new left hand. I smiled as I felt a faint touch, and again as he moved to the other hand.

“Yes! I'd almost forgotten what that felt like.”

“Excellent. The scans looked positive but we like to know for sure. Now to test your movement. Remember, don't expect too much.”

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Excerpt from Talking Without Being Interrupted, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

 

Tell me a story by Pat Aitcheson

Tell me a story. Give me tales of a thousand nights, warm scented breeze in my hair, sand in my shoes. Take me to the farthest pole, blue-green fire dancing in the sky, every breath clouding in crisp night air.

Tell me a story. Let me taste salt sea tang while scorching sun beats down on wooden decks. Show me dolphins, flying fish, great whales breaching white-topped waves. Let me glimpse bright eyed merpeople watching deep under the surface, waiting.

Tell me a story. Carry me on red and silver rockets to vast silent space stations where the brilliant stars never go out. Show me galaxies born from cosmic dust. Bring whispers from strange aliens and even stranger, once-human creatures.

Tell me a story. Lead me up the tallest mountain, rocks skittering away under exhausted feet, lungs screaming for oxygen. Describe that joyful promised land seen only from the summit. Inspire my belief. Take me there on wings of faith.

Expand my horizons. Play my emotions. Cloak mindless chatter, soothe unthinking wounds, only with words. Let me shed this skin, be someone else, somewhere else, sometime else. Let me be lost and found. Give me distance, just for a while.

Tell me a story.

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Taken from While Glancing out of a Window, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

 

The Vanussians are Coming by Gordon Adams

“This is a grave moment for the Human Race,” said the World Controller, standing up to address his audience. He adopted his most sober tone to address the small room, which was full of his senior aides.

“There is no doubt now: the Vanussians are coming. They intend conflict with Earth. We are tracking a fleet of around ten thousand Vanussian combat spacecraft heading directly towards our Solar System. We have at most four days before they arrive within range. The superior technology of the Vanussians means we will face an awesome display of firepower. Thankfully, we have an even greater power with which to fight them.”

“What’s that?” asked the Deputy Consul for Eurasia.

“Why, the power of ideas!” He smiled and glanced to his right, towards a spotty youth sporting a pink shirt. Sitting alongside the youth was a pretty young woman in a bright yellow dress.

“We will fight the Vanussians through the power of… advertising!” added the World Controller with gusto.

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Excerpt from Talking Without Being Interrupted, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

 

It's Not Easy Being a Superhero by Jason McClean

It’s not everyday that you find out you have a superpower.

Bunsen Burners are powerful little gas torches that you find in science classrooms. They are used to heat liquids and other things as part of experiments.

Adrian thought they smelled a bit. Something horrible enough to make you want to stay away but not enough to make you sick. The nasty smell was added to gas so you could tell if it was leaking.

Today’s experiment sounded stupid. But Adrian had learned that normally, when they sounded stupid, that was when he was about to be amazed by something. They were going to see if they could make wet paper burn.

Mr Claws told the pupils to take the paper from the beaker filled with water and hold it in the flame of the Bunsen Burner. Adrian carefully picked it out of the water and held it over the flame

It was soaked in water and he didn’t expect it to burn.

Steam rose from it. He reckoned if he left it long enough, then it would burn once all the water was evaporated.

Mr Claws then told the pupils to bin the damp paper and pick up the paper soaked in ethanol. As ethanol was a fuel, Adrian expected it to burn. It duly did so. As the flames ignited all around the classroom, there were gasps from his classmates, shrieks of fear and delight.

Adrian’s hand was warm. It was uncomfortable, so he crushed the paper until the flames were extinguished.

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Taken from Talking Without Being Interrupted, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

 

A famous villain by Allan Shipham

Are you that smell at the end of my snout?

Or the shadow I saw when the lights went out?

Are you the creak at the window I mistook for a bird?

Or the underfloor scratches I thought I heard?

 

Are you the presence I feel all of the time?

That makes my skin creep and makes my hair climb?

I’m learning about you, I don't like what I hear,

you fill me with dread and you fill me with fear.

 

They say you're a villain; you're out for our souls,

confusion and mayhem are your spiteful goals.

I think that I know you, know what you're about,

If you ever come near me I'll scream and I'll shout.

 

You're quick and you're vicious, but most of all mean. 

You don't care who you've chosen, you've never been seen.

When others tell lies the bells will chime.

Sick to my stomach, I feel all the time.

 

I imagine you know me, you're plotting deceit,

I'm hoping to God that we never meet.

You keep me guessing, you keep me thinking,

I better watch out, you’ll pounce when I’m blinking.

 

You're the subject of stories since times of old,

you're out to destroy me like a cough or a cold.

Just when I think that I've worked you out, 

You surprise me and crush me.

The famous villain is... Doubt.

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Taken from While Glancing out of a Window, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

 

Nothing by James Dart

Total and complete emptiness. It was as if Ivy had lost her senses. She tried to scream but no sound came out. She couldn’t even feel the muscles of her jaw move. It wasn’t that she couldn’t move. There was nothing to move. She could not feel her body at all, only the terror bubbling within her, the fear of eternity in this void. She would have cried if she had tears to shed, or eyes to shed them from. Still her mind rattled. The silence seemed to be consuming her.

Ivy’s eyes snapped open. The creaking of the boiler and rain pattering on the window told her that she was back in her room. Tears streamed down her face. Her fists were clenched so tightly that they threatened to pull apart the old scars on her wrists.

Usually her bad dreams were about her days in school. The sound of mocking laughter and horrible insults would echo in her mind and she would feel the bruises on her arms again. She would be in a full classroom again. Like always, the seat next to hers was empty.

This was different, though. She wondered if this would be the norm from here on in. After all, she had not been in secondary school for years. Being bullied wasn’t really something she was afraid of anymore. Maybe those nightmares were finally tapering off, only to be replaced with nightmares where she lost everything she had gained since then and was totally and utterly alone. Just her luck.

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Excerpt from Talking Without Being Interrupted, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

 

The Wellingborough Witch and the Crone in the Chair by Nick Wogden

Maude Clementine sat quite happily by her living room window, drinking her last cup of Earl Grey before turning in for the night. The sky outside was blood red. She sat enjoying the colours, three floors up in her small home in Croyland Flats.
She lived alone, her husband, Albert, having died of a heart attack suddenly ten years ago.

She took another long sip of her tea and noticed she'd put in a bit too much sugar for her liking. She glanced down at the newspaper on her lap and the pictures of the two young women and the middle-aged man stared back at her, as they had every day over the past few weeks. This troubled her. The whole article troubled her. She'd read it several times, of course. The whole town had.

Three murders in less than a week in Wellingborough was completely unheard of, even to Maude. Her family had lived in Wellingborough for generations, nearly always going to the same local schools as well. There was something about this town that pulled her family back to it eventually - even the ones who'd tried to escape it.

As she looked down at the paper, she went over the troubling thought again.
She'd been here, the night those two girls were torn to bits by wild animals. Surely, they must have screamed out? Why hadn't she heard them? And the man. Beaten to death by several blunt instruments only a few buildings away. Surely someone must have heard something, even if it wasn't her. Yet Maude knew nothing of what had transpired in those evenings. It was a complete blank. In fact, it was as if she had blacked out completely. She couldn't remember anything about the days in question at all. As Maude swirled her tea around in the cup, thoughts of those attacking swirling around her head.

Maude knew all the local stories of course - witches, ghosts, undead animals, all of which her mother had told her when she was a young child. But they came back to her now, in her mother’s sternest voice. "These stories have got come from somewhere Maude." But the old woman shook her head. It was absurd. She could barely get to the kitchen any more, let alone summon dead creatures. Chuckling, she had another sip of tea, before frowning, realising she'd let it go cold.

Maude gave the evening up and decided, as it was just past nine, it was time she got ready for bed. She pushed herself to her feet and had just put on her carpet slippers, when she heard a knock at the door.

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Excerpt from And Ghosts Are Real Too, an anthology by Northants Writers' Ink. Available to buy from Amazon UK

The Cheat by Rosalie Weller

Lorraine froze. It was him.

“As Andrew Edward Washington was sentenced, he smirked. There was no thought for his victims. He defrauded at least four women – detectives say it could be as many as ten – of their life savings, totalling …… this is Samira Patel reporting from Chelmsford County Court.”

Lorraine blocked the details of the local news from her mind. Mrs Whiggleton noticed a change in her daughter’s demeanour. The mother cleared her throat and made an attempt to get up from her armchair, her arthritic knees preventing her.
“You alright, love?” she said.
“Yes, Mum, don’t you worry. Ten o’clock news – time for your pills. I’ll get them for you. Ex pupil, that’s all.”

Endlessly walking around that stuffy school-hall in non-squeaky soft shoes, surrounded by colleagues but unable to have a chat! Those were the days before paid invigilators. Teachers had to supervise their own mock exams. Lorraine remembered that day as clearly as if it were yesterday. Newly qualified, she had been terrified. She doubted herself. Was that writing on Andrew Edward Washington’s palm? Surely not.

She continued the walk-around, glancing towards him. He continued writing. Why were his shirt sleeves not turned up like the other pupils? He must be hot. He was usually the first one to abandon the strict school uniform rules. She made another circuit around the hall, trying not to glance in his direction. What if she were wrong? She dismissed the suspicions from her mind. Yet the studied movement of his eyes on his palm had been unmistakable. How much information can you put on your palm, for goodness’ sake! Would it have mattered if she had challenged him? For forty years, she had wondered. It always bothered her because she felt she hadn’t done the right thing. She had exercised her moral judgement then bottled it when action was needed. The talk in the staffroom was about the ludicrous methods students used to cheat. But no-one ever seemed to challenge them.

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Optimistic to Save the Planet by Karl Willett

In late August 2017, I was gripped by society’s deadly ignorance and the negligence of world leaders. Fear gripped my mind. We risked being plunged into World War Three and, having put the fear of God in us, somehow the catastrophic conflicts and natural disasters that teach us something new about how the earth works were being exaggerated to inspire shock and awe to end the world.

Dosh! My brain may have lost the plot, but I am right to worry about nuclear war because it will immolate the human race.

The fallout from North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test proved a political shock as they continued to provoke its enemies. In an age when many people are seduced by more authoritarian forms of rule, it is good to be in a democratic process which provokes engagement, debate and wider understanding. No-one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise, but there are indeed worse systems of government that need an upgrade. The arms race appeared to be back on because states were stuck in the mind-set that the only way to to settle their differences was with violence.

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