Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

This is chapter four in the second outstanding Round Robin story from Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Its authors are Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Part 4

The pub was not far from the office. As they walked, the conversation became easier. Arthur asked how long Ada had worked for Ledbetters and she told him she had worked in munitions during the war but went back to the print trade afterwards.

They were shown to a quiet table, and he asked her to call him Arthur outside office hours. She agreed, as long as he would call her Ada. Arthur told her how much Stan spoke of his wife Ada, and he felt he knew her already.

He convinced Ada to have an aperitif. She, being unused to drinking, was feeling rather sophisticated though a little out of her depth as the two friends, for they were comfortable enough with each other to consider themselves friends as well as colleagues, waited for their drinks to arrive.

After toasting lost friends and Stan, they took their time looking at the limited menu, neither one knowing how to proceed. Arthur chose a steak and kidney pudding, while Ada decided on a slice of corned beef and potato pie. The next few minutes were spent talking about their respective families, and how they coped, or not, after the war.

Eventually, and perhaps because of the sherry, Ada decided to take the bull by the horns.

“Mr Giles, Arthur. Why did you ask me here tonight? You did say it had something to do with my Stan?”

Arthur Giles loosened the top button of his shirt and coughed. He didn’t know why he felt so awkward about this. It should be a simple matter to tell a man’s widow that he knew how much she had meant to him and that her husband had left her a letter saying just that. He hoped she would gain comfort from his words and subsequently the letter he was about to hand to her. He also hoped that in some way she may find some comfort with him, in due course.

He drew a deep breath and looked at Ada, quickly glancing away again, as though embarrassed. She had beautiful green eyes and he didn’t want to get distracted from the matter in hand. Taking the unopened letter from his jacket pocket he placed it on the table in front of Ada and explained as best as he could how it had been in his possession.

Ada was so shaken by Arthur’s news that he had to take her home and forgo the trifle he had eyed up for dessert. Still, he would have it next time. He was sure there would be a next time.

Arthur had brought her home and made her a cup of hot sweet tea. He had left now and Ada sat alone at the table with the letter still in her hand. She let her tea go cold, she hadn’t wanted it anyway.

She read, and reread Stan’s letter, poring over each word.

It was clear that Stan had loved her with all his heart, as much as she had, still did, love him.

There was however something else Stan had written, which Ada found most upsetting. She could hardly believe it, but her Stan would never lie to her so it must be true.

Stan had asked Ada not to reveal any of the information in the letter to anyone. Something Ada knew she would struggle with, as her first instinct was to run to Stan’s ma’s house to share the letter. For the umpteenth time, she read her darling Stan’s letter.

In it, Stan told her that the man who had given her the letter, Arthur Giles was a spy. According to the letter, Stan was stationed with Arthur to get close to him and discover how and what he was telling the enemy. Stan in turn was to relay this information to his commanding officer. It became clear that Arthur Giles was becoming suspicious and so Stan and the officer in charge came up with a plan. They were to fake Stan’s death, and Stan would continue to work behind the scenes to stop Arthur.

In his letter, Stan explained to Ada that the Ministry’s plan was for him to go ‘undercover’ to trap Arthur, who they suspected was a ‘sleeper spy’, someone who blended into society until they were called into action, perhaps many years later. He would find a way to get back to Ada, but he hoped that she would understand, know that he loved her and that of course ‘missing in action’ meant that his body hadn’t been found.

How could it, when he was still alive?

Trying to understand, Ada began to wonder, if Arthur had anything to do with the death of the officer in charge all those years ago? Did he get suspicious?

Her mind in turmoil, Ada went to bed, but rest would not come.

There was so much to think about.

Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

This is chapter three in the second outstanding Round Robin story from Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Its authors are, Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 3

‘Sit down Mrs. Coleman; I have a question to ask? Would you kindly come out to dinner with me one evening after work, I have something serious to discuss with you about your late husband Stan.’

Arthur managed to get the sentence out in one breath. Ada went all hot and she felt her cheeks burning.

‘Why on earth would you want to see me out of work, Mr. Giles?’

‘Because, Mrs. Coleman I knew your husband, Stan. We were in the same unit; I have a letter for you.’

Shock struck Ada; tears started flowing and she searched for her handkerchief. Pushing the chair back as she desperately tried to make her escape to the ladies toilet, caused a screeching sound from her chair. The girls in the typing pool turned and stared through the glass partition as they watched Ada come dashing through the door.

Mr. Giles followed to the door and asked Miss Blanchard to go and see that Mrs. Coleman was all right.

Mr. Giles returned to his office to calm himself down. A knock on the door announced Marion Morgan with another cup of tea for him, awaiting his response before she enter entered.

She asked if there was anything else he required?

‘No. No, thank you, Miss Morgan; the tea will do fine.”

Breathing deeply he decided a trip to the Gents would be the place to calm himself. Eyes stared from above the typewriters as the girls in the office continued their assignments.

It had never occurred to Arthur Giles that this lady, Ada Coleman could be the wife of his friend Stan Coleman. They had served together in Bomb Disposal during the war and had been lucky to escape with only a scratch, until that day when the bomb they were attempting to defuse exploded. The blast knocked Arthur Giles yards away and he was told Stan had been killed.

They had exchanged letters to send to their next of kin if they were killed,. Usually the Officer in-charge would accept them, but he had been killed in action. There was no one else to take on the responsibility of collecting such letters. Arthur Giles had tried in vain to find the address of Stan’s next of kin, but with no luck. He had kept the letter safely for two years and hoped that one day he may be able to forward it to her.

After demobilisation, he had moved to Bolton, finding work at Ledbetters Printers. He had been a proof-reader before he was called up for the War Service.

After his trip to the Gents he continued to work until six o’clock. The typing pool finished at five-thirty so he had the office to himself for half an hour. Hearing a tap on the door, he looked up to find Ada Coleman staring at him through the glass. He beckoned her to enter; she seemed flustered and anxious, but that was to be expected after the way he had, less than tactfully, invited her out for a meal.

Arthur stood as she entered. ‘Mrs. Coleman, I am so pleased to see you. I am sorry I was so tactless in my announcement of my association with your late husband. Please forgive me. The cleaners will soon be in the offices and I would like to take this opportunity to finish what I messed up before. Please would you join me for dinner at a venue of your choice where you will be comfortable?’

‘Yes, I would like that Mr. Giles. I’m sorry I was so silly, but it was such a shock. We have not had any information about Stan’s death from the War Ministry, just, “missing in action”. They did not even give us a country or area. Your news was music to my ears: someone knowing my Stan.’

‘Where would you like to eat Mrs. Coleman?’ Arthur asked.

‘How about the Black Bear on Middleton Street?’ Ada suggested. ‘They have a varied menu even in rationing’.

They left the office together, getting stares from the cleaners coming into work.

Ghosts of the Railway

A wartime farewell. The statue at St Pancras Station

This is the second chapter of the writing group’s excellent Round Robin Story, Ghosts of the Railway written by Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. We hope you continue to enjoy it.

Chapter 2

Ma had been sobbing quietly but now she let out such a wail of despair, her only child gone. Ada and Ma fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried.

Later when they had managed to quieten their sobs, Ada put the kettle on and began to tell Ma how she thought she had seen Stan at the station. It was so real to her, she couldn’t quite believe the news the telegram had brought. She was clinging to the hope that it was a mistake, she knew that could happen. After all Jenny Masterton had a telegram but later it was found to be a mistake. Her husband came home, injured but alive. It must be a mistake. Ada couldn’t bear it to be true.

As the days passed Ada went on with her life, going to work and coming home like an automaton. Time passed without her realising; she was just going through the motions of life. Living but not living, struggling every day with her loss. Stan’s Ma was struggling too. Ada tried to help her, but it was just too hard. Seeing her sorrow made everything real, and Ada wasn’t ready to accept that.

What made it even harder was seeing so many men come home to their wives. She was glad for them of course, but seeing their happiness made her pain so much worse. That is how it should have been for them; it wasn’t fair. They were just starting out on their lives together. She would regularly phone the number she was given at the war office to check if they had heard anything more. She needed details before she would believe Stan was gone.

Her sister May had come to stay with her for a while but, if anything, it annoyed Ada to have her there. She was sympathetic but impatient for Ada to accept what had happened. It was no good, and eventually she asked May to go back home. She tried to be tactful but May was obviously put out. She flounced out of the house without a backward glance. Although she was sorry to hurt May’s feelings, Ada didn’t have the energy to deal with it right now. It took all her energy just getting through the day.

As the days, weeks and months passed, Ada began to accept that Stan would not be coming home. She had no choice but to accept it. Slowly she began to rebuild her life. She still went around to Stan’s Ma’s house on a Thursday night to make sure she was okay. They would chat about when Stan had been a boy; Ma loved to tell her stories and she loved to hear them. For a short while they could both forget that the future was empty and enjoy the past, talking of the boy and man they both had loved.

She would occasionally go to the cinema with her sister, but most evenings she stayed home. Her only outings were to work or queueing at the shops to get her rations. The girls at work in the typing pool were kind and always asked her to join them on their girls’ nights out. After a while they stopped asking as she always said no. Her boss Mr Butterworth had said she could have time off, but she felt worse just sitting alone at home. At least when she was working her mind was busy and she didn’t have time to brood.

Almost two years had passed when Mr Butterworth retired and the company brought in a man from one of their other offices to run things: a Mr. Giles. The girls who were still single were ‘all of a flutter’. Mr. Giles was tall, dark and handsome; Lesley, the office gossip, had already found out that he was single. He was very polite and neat and tidy in appearance. Quite a change from old Mr. Butterworth who always looked a little dishevelled and had something spilled on his tie.

Mr. Giles was quietly spoken and had a slightly sad faraway look about him. The girls decided he must be a bit of a dreamer as he would often be seen in his office staring into space during the lunch hour. He soon had an impact on the office. Changes were made; most were useful and helpful to the staff. That didn’t stop some of the girls complaining though, with comments that Mr. Butterworth didn’t do that, or wouldn’t like that. Mr. Giles didn’t seem to notice and just got on with the job at hand.

Ada began to take on more responsibility in the typing pool. Mr. Giles would often ask her to hand out the day’s assignments to the other girls. Ada thought it was because he felt safer with her, she didn’t flutter her eyelashes at him and was not as made up as the younger girls were. The girls didn’t seem to mind, which quite surprised her, but then they didn’t want the extra responsibility of chasing up work which hadn’t been finished. When push came to shove, she was always willing to help if one of them needed to finish early – to collect a child or some other emergency. She never needed to rush home for family or to prepare for a date. She was grateful for the extra money; it was not a lot but it helped enormously.

Ada still took her turn on the tea-making rota for the afternoon break. She also shopped for the tea, milk, sugar and biscuits. She had just taken Mr. Giles his tea with two biscuits when he asked her to sit down a moment. Intrigued, she did so. He closed the office door and returned to his desk. He seemed very distracted and not his usual calm self.

‘Is everything alright Mr. Giles?’ she asked.

He took a deep breath and said, ‘No Mrs. Coleman, it is not.

Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell

This is the second of the writing group’s excellent Round Robin Stories, this one has been written by Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

Ada made her way quickly along the platform. The late afternoon sky had turned dark as she travelled here on the bus, fine drizzle had made her hair wet on the short walk from the bus stop to the station.

That wouldn’t have been a problem, she thought to herself, if it wasn’t for its propensity to become a mass of frizz when even slightly damp. Why today? She asked herself in frustration. Today of all days.

She had taken hours to get ready for her journey this afternoon: carefully pulling on the fine nylons so as not to ladder them as she straightened the seams, then choosing a skirt that revealed a flash of knee when she sat down. She had added a sheer blouse that offered a hint of a tantalising outline of the uplifting bra underneath. The top button was left undone, almost revealing some cleavage.

Her shoes were sturdy and she had sighed as she pulled them on in her bedroom. They were not fashionable and definitely not sexy. Coupons were still limited. How can a girl look alluring in these?

She had considered asking her elder sister, May, if she could borrow her smart black pair but decided against it. She could just imagine May’s voice.

‘Ma, our Ada wants to get dolled up to go to the station.’

And her mother’s response.

‘Hey, our Ada, don’t you go up there looking like some old tart. That young man of yours will be pleased to see you just as you are.’

So there was not a chance of borrowing lip gloss or even a bit of blusher but, almost in defiance, she drowned herself in scent from the bottle on her dressing table as she did a final twirl and assessed her appearance; back, front, sides in the three bevelled mirrors.

Deep in her heart, she knew they were right. Her Stan would just be pleased to see her waiting with all the other women. They had waited so long for this day.

The neighbours had crowded into their little parlour, listening for the announcement on the wireless. Finally came the words they had all waited to hear. The war was over. The men were coming home.

Then there was the bustle of preparation. The women donned pinafores and rolled up their cardigan sleeves. Spiders who had hidden in corners didn’t stand a chance as every cobweb fell before the feather duster. Whitewash and brushes were pulled out. Till late in the evenings, the sounds of carpet beaters could be heard across the yards.

The whole street seemed to come alive again, as if everybody had been holding their breath and now blew fresh air over the terraces. Front doorsteps took on a new sheen of cardinal red. Grates were declared blacker than Newgate’s knocker. Even the drooping plants seemed to revive. All the talk over the low garden walls was of reunions and parties. Cakes were baked and the children played out late, taking advantage of the good humour that enveloped their mothers.

Ada had watched with a wistful smile. When the war had started, she and Stan had only been married for two months. In fact, they had brought the wedding forward so they could have a honeymoon – that wonderful weekend at Bognor – and move into the little house that had just become vacant in the street where they had grown up and both their families still lived.

As she listened to the children squealing below her window, she folded her arms over her flat belly. When Stan had first been called up she had thought she might be in the family way but six weeks after he left she suffered terrible cramps and then the heavy bleeding of a late period.

She still clung to the thought of a late period, not able to face the possibility that perhaps there was a baby but she had somehow not looked after it properly so it had slipped away. Now the sadness was tinged with hope. Stan was coming home and maybe there would be a baby. She hugged the thought to herself as she got ready to go to the station.

With a quick ‘yoo-hoo, I’m off now’, at Ma’s back door, careful not to let the scent waft into the scullery, she had left the street along with the gaggle of women all heading the same direction. Now they jostled for a first glimpse as the train pulled into the station in a burst of hissing steam.

‘Bill, Jack, Ralph,’ she heard the shrill calls of the women close to her as they spotted their husbands, brothers, sons, and surged forward. Then she saw him and joined the rush, mouthing, ‘Stan, oh Stan, over here.’

There was just a moment when she thought he wouldn’t see her in the crowd but then his eyes met hers. He was tall and could see over the crowd although she was still tiny even in those sturdy shoes. Her heart expanded with love as she took in his handsome face, neatly cut hair and straight back, despite the heavy kit bag that all the men carried, slung over one shoulder.

Now she was pushing forward and he was almost within reach.

Then two taller women stepped in front of her and just for a moment she lost sight of him. Weaving around them she stretched to her full five feet, craning her neck to catch sight of him. Men were still pouring from the train. Women still thronged around the open carriage doors. Couples were hugging all the way to the escalator.

‘Oh, Stan,’ she tutted. ‘Couldn’t you have just walked in a straight line?’ but she knew it was difficult with the crowd jostling from all sides. Nothing to do but wait until he came into view again.

The porters were sweeping the platform before she admitted to herself that Stan wasn’t going to reappear from the WC or behind the paper stall. He had obviously not looked properly for her, typical man, scanning the platform and deciding that she must have given up hopes of reaching him in the crowd and gone home again.

Now she felt lonely as she caught the bus back. Gone were the women from the street, gone were the clamouring children, gone were the men with their heavy kit bags. She knew Stan wouldn’t be at their house. Who went to war with the back door key in their pocket?

So she headed straight to Stan’s ma’s house and burst in the door without even waiting for her tap to be heard, unable to contain her excitement a single moment longer.

Stan’s ma sat hunched over the kitchen table and the crumpled telegram lay on the chenille cloth right next to the fruit bowl.

Ada stopped dead in her stride, she couldn’t breathe. She finally stepped forward and picked up the telegram. Everything around her seemed to stop, slowly the words began to make sense as they swam before her sight. Stan was dead.  She sank into the chair next to Stan’s Ma.

Time Chapter 5

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

The concluding part of the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Val Fish.

Time

Chapter 5

I wake early, my stomach churning even more than usual. I wish he’d just hurry up…

I hear the key in the lock. I take a deep breath and get into position, my right fist wrapped tightly round the nail. He sees me with my hands clutched to my stomach, the chains are back on my wrists and I’m praying he can’t see they are loose and untied. I groan loudly.

He puts the tray down and stares at me. ‘Is this some sort of trick? You really don’t think I’m that stupid, do you?’

Those are the first words he’s said to me in all this time. I make my next move; I collapse to the floor.

‘Help me, please!

As he kneels, I release the chains, reach out and swiftly dig the rusty nail into his right eye. He loses his balance and falls. For good measure I follow it by throwing a cup of hot tea in his face.

As he screams in agony, I bolt for the door.

I can’t believe I’m outside! The daylight blinds me for a moment. I realise he won’t be far behind me. I run, not knowing where I am or where I’m going, just knowing I’m running for my life. The good news is I’m just a few feet from a road, though right now it’s deserted. ‘Please God, please let a car come by…’

My prayers are answered, I shall be forever grateful to the lovely lady that stops for me and drives me to the police station. Mind you, she doesn’t have a lot of choice other than to run me over, as I stand in the middle of the road frantically waving my arms, screaming ‘Stop, stop!’

At the police station it is hard to get the words out. I think I am in shock. Somehow I manage to convey what has happened to me.

I tell the police about the other girl. They have no cases that tie up with my situation – no one, that is. The little information I can give at least means they can investigate, check the missing persons register for any possible link.

It is hard to think she may no longer be alive; it seems I am the lucky one…

Apparently, I’d been taken quite a distance from home, so it is a while before my parents arrive for an extremely emotional reunion.

I am taken to hospital to be checked out. Apart from having lost a lot of weight and being dehydrated, I am deemed okay and allowed to go home.

Home, to my own bed.

There were times I thought it would never happen.

Time Chapter 4

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Wendy Fletcher.

Time

Chapter 4

Every day the leather cuffs seem to get a little looser. Of course, it is suddenly clear – even to my fuddled brain. Another day or two of the meagre rations and I will be able to slip free. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the man that this is a possibility. Maybe if I eat even less, I could hurry the process. After all, they do say you could live without food for a few days as long as you have fluid.

As darkness falls outside, I start to implement my plan. He brings more sandwiches – cheese again – and puts them close to me. I almost weaken when I smelled pickle: my favourite. But now is no time for indulging my whims. Plenty of time for that once I am out of this place. I manage to push the sandwiches off the plate and nearer to the corner where shadows hide them from his view when he returns. Just to be sure, I lay out flat on the hard floor and scoop a heap of the dust over the top of them. The soil is gritty, reminding me of sand. I wonder if I might be somewhere on the coast.

Next day I manage to ignore the griping pains in my stomach and stretch across to hide the sandwiches in the corner.

Although I am feeling weaker by the hour, my mind is somehow clearing. Of course, the food has been drugged. Now it is getting out of my system. If I don’t eat, I can work out what to do – if I don’t starve first.

I reach for the spot where the girl had been and stretch my tied hands out to touch the wall. What is it made of?

The surface is cold and very rough.

I move my hands up and there is a crack running across; down, and there is another crack. I edge my way along, almost sure now what I will find. Similar cracks going upwards at regular intervals tell me it is built of blocks.

I push myself into the corner and know I am right. It isn’t a right-angled corner; walls are offset at an angle that means the structure is the shape of a fifty pence piece.

I don’t know where I am, but I know what the building is.

As a child I had played in these war-time pillboxes. They were strategically placed all over East Anglia to defend us from attack. So, whoever my assailant is, he has local knowledge as they are abandoned now and mostly overgrown.

I know there is no chance of slipping out of a window. They were shaped to deflect attack and the inner edges are little more than slits. No chance of breaking down a wall; these monuments are solid concrete. My only hope is the door – perhaps when another tray of food is brought to me.     

After a lot of struggling I am finally able to free myself from the chains. I have an idea how I can use the nail; my biggest problem will be how to keep my hands out of his sight until I make my move. It could all go horribly wrong, and then what? But I have to try. I could be free tomorrow!

It is such a relief to have the chains off, but still I have a restless night – so many thoughts going around in my head.

Time Chapter 3

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Jane Pobgee.

Time

Chapter 3

I shuffle once again over to where the girl had been. In the half-light I was sure I had seen something. I was right, low down against the wall I can just see a small nail. It has been banged into the brickwork, barely visible. I’m not sure how this could be useful, but it is something.

Crouching low I manage to get my fingers to the nail; it feels tight in its hole. I knew I wouldn’t have the strength in my fingers alone to pull it out; I need something to help prise it out. I hear the man returning with the bucket so scurry over to my ‘place’ again.

Once he has left I go back to the nail. It is dark now; I have to feel for it.

I try putting a link of my chain over it, tugging at it; it immediately slips off. I triy again, this time keeping my finger over the nail to stop the link coming off. I don’t know how long I crouch here, pulling and tugging this way and that for what seems like hours until, eventually, the nail loosens.

I shuffle back, sit, and hid the nail in my bra. I try to get some sleep. It doesn’t come easy; I am too buzzed to settle. This could be my chance, a way out of this prison.

Eventually my eyelids drooped and I slept. Again I don’t know what time it is when I awake, the man comes, bringing another tray of food, not the usual slop. This time it is a sandwich: a cheese sandwich. I know I need to eat more even if it is drugged as I am too weak to think clearly. I eat every crumb, and it tastes so good. He replaces my water bottle, allows me to use the bucket and leaves.

I drink most of the water straight away; I figured that would help clear my head. Thankfully, it tastes clean and cold. I don’t think it is drugged but then what would drugged water taste like? I have no idea.

For a long time I sit, not doing or even thinking anything. Later the man comes back with another tray containing another cheese sandwich, slightly stale, and some more water. Again, I eat every crumb. Not quite as appetising as the first but still better than the slop they have been giving me.

Once he leaves, I know I have to have a plan. I need to think how to get out of here. He isn’t going to return for a while; I dig out the nail. It isn’t very long, but I wonder if I could somehow use it to free myself of the chains. I spend a long time looking at the leather cuffs that tie my hands, inspecting every bit of them, seeing how they connect to the chains.

An idea begins to form.

Time Chapter 2

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Time

By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Here is Chapter 2 in the writing group’s excellent Round Robin story, Time. This Chapter was written by Val Chapman.

Chapter 2    –    Val Chapman

There used to be two of us here.

I can remember a girl. She was here before me and through my drug fuelled haze, I tried to talk to her, find out who she was, who had imprisoned us here, and why?

I had so many unanswered questions.

I never had a reply, she had just sat on the floor, knees pulled up to her chin and when she did lift her head I could see her tear stained face. Dirty, and with a look that once I imagine was defiance, but now was just defeat.

I could almost smell it on her.

Of course I had no idea how long she had been here, wherever ‘here’ was.

Jesus Christ, I had no idea how long I had been here, but I would make damned sure it won’t be for much longer.

I had discovered something about myself being here. 

Fear makes me bloody determined and angry.

I woke up one morning? afternoon? and I was on my own.

The girl had gone.

I had heard nothing and had no idea when, how, or why she had been taken away.

More fear gripped me and I shivered, not just with the cold, as my stomach twisted and churned.  

I would be next.

I forced the fog in my head to clear. My life depended on it.

Moving as far as my chains would allow me, I shuffled across towards the spot where the girl had been.

Maybe, hope upon hope, she had left a clue or something which could help me to get out of here.

His footsteps sound on the stone floor on the other side of the door and I quickly scuttle back to ‘my’ place.

The bastard unlocks the door and comes in with another tray. The last thing I want to do is eat it, but I have to keep my strength up if I’m going to get out of here.

And I will. 

I try to smile at him.

Maybe I can fool him into letting his guard down if he thinks I am friendly.

I say “try”, but my mouth is so dry my lip sticks to my teeth.

Still, he seems to accept it, and slides the tray in my direction. 

He stands, arms folded, and looks at me.

He says nothing, just watches me for an uncomfortable few minutes, then picks up the disgusting bucket and leaves.

Who is he?

I try not to think about what he wants with me. If it is just for a ransom then I hope it gets paid soon. 

There is still a small amount of watery light coming through the window and I take my chance to look around for something, anything I could use to get the hell out.

I had almost given up when I spotted something.

Time

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Our writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths has been working collaboratively, in teams during the lock down, to produce Round Robin stories. These pieces are group efforts with each team member writing an individual chapter. This is the first chapter of Time, we will post the other chapters during the next few days and weeks. Enjoy!

Time

By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Chapter 1 Val F

Time means nothing to me, not the hours, the days, the weeks; I cannot tell you how long I have been here, I cannot tell you where I am, except in hell…

I only know that I wake up every morning, sometimes I wish that I would just go to sleep and never wake again, to free myself from this nightmare.

I have no wall to scratch out the days, and even if I did my hands are tied.

I could not even tell you the time of year, I’m guessing late spring, as, from the little light I do get from the tiny window  (it’s too high for me to see out) it does seem to stay light longer each day.  Nevertheless, it’s pretty cold down here; I only get a smidgeon of sun each day. I suppose I could work out which direction I’m facing if I thought about it, but what good would that do me? 

I try to remember how I got here, in this dungeon; I guess I was drugged. I think he’s possibly putting something in my food, I am constantly feeling dozy and lightheaded, although that could just be the lack of food, or drink.  He leaves me water, but I sip as little as possible, for fear of needing the toilet.

He comes in three times a day with my food, unappetising muck; my stomach is crying out for food, but still I can usually only manage a few mouthfuls before I start to feel nauseous.

At least my hands are free for a while.  Then the ultimate humiliation, he allows me to relieve myself in a bucket in the corner. 

When he’s gone, and the door bangs shut, and I hear a key turning in the lock, back in my chains, only then will I  cry.

The world out there must be looking for me, I must have hope.

Will I ever get out of here, or am I destined to die in this shithole? 

UP, UP AND AWAY

 

This piece has been written by Val Chapman and gives a slightly different perspective. The story has a local connection, who knew?

I had been standing in the field for ages. It was always the same at this time of year. I had been told to “hurry up, it’s nearly time to go”.

So I had left the warmth of the inside with the cosy blankets and smell of pine trees and ginger cookies and went in search of Comet and Prancer.

We were the oldest of this particular group of reindeers and as such we felt deserving of a little bit of respect and consideration, not being pushed around and hurried. I found them both finishing off lunch and we headed across to the big barn which housed the sleigh. It had been built years ago but still looked as new and fresh as ever, nestling between the workshop and Santa’s house.

We could see the elves going to and fro, filling the sleigh and the excitement was building. 

“Ah Cupid, there you all are. I thought we would give you a bit of time to pull yourselves together ready for the off”.

Vixen really fancied herself as something special, and she and I had crossed antlers on a number of occasions. Honestly, just because Santa had given her the left-over carrot back in ’97 Vixen thought she was the ‘chosen one’ and could do no wrong.

I mean, it was not as though she was ‘lead reindeer’. Everyone knew that Rudolph had that particular role. 

It wasn’t always like that of course.

We never used to have a ‘lead’ as such. The eight of us managed very well thank you and even when the last Dasher and Dancer retired, the new pair fitted in very well with the rest of us.

It was only when Rudolph grew up and became this freak of nature with that weird glowing nose that she got to head out at the front of the sleigh.

It took a bit of getting used to I will admit, but the elves had done a fantastic job in adapting the sleigh for the nine of us.

Santa had to have a few practice runs of course to get used to the difference. Well, he’s not as young as he once was, and needs a bit of help on occasions. I have to say though, it did work well and we have been together as a group ever since. 

We did worry at first that we would get more attention if people could see this red glow in the night, but apart from one or two close calls in the early days it had been pretty much plain sailing.

Still, no time to think about that now. We had work to do.

I finished off the bit of lichen I had been munching on, and along with Comet, Prancer and Dancer headed over to the sleigh shed and the magic dust booth where the elves were waiting.

Vixen was already there of course, ushering all of us along like a group of schoolchildren.

Rudolph, Blitzen and Dasher followed the four of us jostling to get to the front of the queue.

“Oh come on you two, let’s get a move on”. Vixen chastised us, while Donner behind them sheepishly shrugged.

I quite liked Donner. She was a pretty little thing, kind and helpful, very much like her mother.

After the magic dust had been applied to all of us, Bernard, Santa’s chief elf, walked with us to the sleigh.

We all took our places and Bernard and his crew had just finished fastening us in, when Santa arrived.

“Great timing as always boys”, the boss smiled.

Typical of Santa, he took time to talk to everyone and to make sure that all was well.

This seemed to take longer and longer each year and one or two of us were getting a little impatient.

Finally, the sleigh was given the all clear and with a final “hurrah” we headed off towards the stars.

The first stop as usual was the hotter countries. Even at night the temperature was warm and it was better for us to get those out of the way while we were still relatively fresh and raring to go.

To be honest it really was a relief to finish where it was colder, the heat does not suit reindeers especially when they are tired and a little grumpy.

Everything went as smoothly as usual although the sniping from Vixen was annoying.

“Come on girls, pull your weight, you can’t let us do all the work”.

“Oh for goodness sake, watch where you are going, we nearly missed Fiji.”

“Stop dragging your hooves, we’ll never get finished at this rate.”

What a nerve.

I had been doing this for longer than she had. Cheeky cow!

I glanced down.

Oh, lovely, we were almost at one of my favourite places.

It was always a pleasure to stop off at Whittlesey.

Sometimes we called a halt at Lattersey Nature reserve for a ‘comfort break’ but nevertheless, these days we would always pause for a while at The Manor field.

Santa was more than a little fond of this little Fenland town, and we always took a little break here to meet Diana.

He had been meeting Diana here for years.

She was just a little girl when he first met her.

One of those annoying children who pretended to be asleep just so they could meet Santa.

Only it turned out that Diana wasn’t annoying at all.

She had done her research, which meant that she was one of those rare people who left out moss and lichen for us reindeers instead of the usual carrots or apples. 

We’re really not fans of carrots, but they keep us going if there is nothing else. To be honest I quite like those mince pies people leave out for Santa. 

He can’t possibly eat them all of course, though in the early days he did try! So we take them back for the elves and they have the hot chocolate ready when we get back.

Sometimes we get thrown the crumbs and that’s how I found out how tasty they are.

Diana had soon sussed out Santa too. He looked forward to her cheese and onion pies, still warm from the oven. She had helped her mother to make them at first, but when she grew up she made them herself and waited for Santa so that they could share it.

Now though, she crept out of the house to meet us by the leisure centre, with bags full of pies to take on our journey.

Santa was a big fan of Diana’s meat pies too, maybe too big a fan, but had been warned not to eat them while in costume as the elves had had a terrible job trying to get the gravy stains out of his coat last year.

We had already delivered in Eastrea and Coates and looking across the rooftops, we could see the clock tower of St Mary’s close by, glistening in the early frost. 

It looked as though they had done a good job with the Christmas lights and the tree standing by the Buttercross looked very nice this year. A pretty Christmas card scene some people may say.

Seemingly some towns had decided to switch off their Christmas lights during the night. Something to do with saving energy, and money apparently. 

It was a shame, they don’t seem to realise how much it helps up along our way. Especially those of us who had tired eyes.

The moon was quite bright tonight though, and it lit up the water in the Bower. 

We started to take the sleigh down, and startled a fox as we often did..

Sure enough, Diana was waiting and with a beaming smile Santa stepped down from the sleigh and walked towards her.

Vixen looked across at me,

“No doubt you are glad of the rest, aren’t you Cupid?”

“It’s another long night tonight thanks to the storms over Thailand and China, and with all these new houses it takes a little longer every year Still, never mind, you’ll be able to put your hooves up when we get back. I heard that the new, young Cupid has been doing very well in training. You might find yourself cast aside sooner than you thought.

Although I don’t suppose you will mind. Your heart hasn’t been in it lately, has it?”

To imply that I had not been giving everything for Santa was the last straw. This is what I and the other reindeers had been born to do. It was an unimaginable honour to serve Santa in this way and I was cut to the quick to think that anyone, even Vixen could think that I was in any way disheartened, and not doing my very best.

Of course I realised that my turn at the sleigh was coming to a close, and as Vixen ‘kindly’ pointed out, the next Cupid was already waiting in the wings. A life of retirement was waiting for me and I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for that.

It seemed to me as though retirement was when the real work started. No longer part of the sleigh group, older reindeers weren’t valued much. They had to do a lot of the heavy hauling jobs, dragging wood to and from the workshops,  looking after the calves, making sure food was available for all. Let me tell you, life as a retired reindeer wasn’t much fun.

So while Santa was saying his goodbyes to Diana, I managed to free myself from the harness.

I was desperately sorry to leave Santa in the lurch like this, but I could not face being with Vixen any longer and wanted my own adventure.

I cast a glance at my friends and headed off.

They couldn’t follow me of course as they were still tethered, and I could fly much faster on my own.

I watched from a distance to make sure all was well with the others, well most of them, and Santa of course. Satisfied that with Diana’s help everything was under control, I continued on my little journey.

I had always enjoyed visiting Lattersey, and now suddenly I had decided that this was to be my future home. 

So far I had been able to keep well out of sight and only a few people were aware of my presence.

Diana came to visit and brought her children with her, which was lovely, but for the most part, I keep myself to myself. I have made friends with a lot of the Muntjac deer around here, and have learnt to keep away from the dogs and badgers.

I can’t fly anymore of course as the magic dust had worn off a long time ago, so if I wanted to go somewhere else it would mean a long walk, but I do visit King’s Dyke Nature Reserve and I may settle there for a while.

If I do I’ll make sure Diana knows so she doesn’t worry about me. 

Although for now I am happy enough at Lattersey, who knows where I might end up?

Val Chapman