Night at Kinlochleven | Short Story

Cheap pitches. Free showers. View of the loch. Save for the omnipresent midge, there seems little reason not to stop at Kinlochleven campsite. Strange then that no-one stays a second night.

Looking west along Loch Leven as the sun dives horizonwards, the summits seem benevolent, cradling the little town in a gnarled embrace. Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach, Sgùrr a’ Mhàim and more lie in wooded repose lochside, benign under the last sideways-slung rays. This dying of the light is picturesque to be sure, reaching up into the loch. Weary trekkers and wellness bloggers snap pictures for their Instagram accounts, their eyes on their phones whilst locals search the gullies, the craggy overhangs.

It is not the dusk that the townsfolk are wary of. At least, not the dusk alone. It is a stillness in the evening air, a sense of heavy dreichness. The villagers can sense it. They close their doors over softly and stuff dishcloths and rags in the loose window frames. Curtains are drawn, lights dimmed.

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Foundering | Short Story

Some short stories never really ignite for their authors. Some flare briefly before being doused by the sheer weight of writing out there. Others are slow burners, flickering flames dancing on cruisie lamp wicks long after the last of the oil has gone.

Foundering‘ was one such story for me. Initially published on this blog, it was picked up by Flashback Fiction, who in turn nominated it for the Best Microfiction 2021 anthology. I was equal parts delighted and surprised when it made the final cut, and there was the long-awaited kerthunk yesterday as my author copy wound its way from the publishers. ‘Foundering’ has flickered long after dusk has fallen, and given me more pleasure as a writer than I ever thought it would. I’m extraordinarily grateful that it has found a home alongside so many wonderful pieces.

If you are interested in microfiction across about as many genres as you could imagine, give Best Microfiction 2021 a look here.

*Thanks for reading, folks. My recent short stories include ‘The Rectory‘ and ‘The Stretch‘.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Finale

Read part one here…

Read part two here…

Read part three here…

Read part four here…

The woman showed no surprise at the midshipman’s entrance. She stared at him, a smile nudging at the corners of her lips.

Bligh stood with mouth hanging open; a small boy caught stealing apples from the orchard. He had seen this fine green dress once before; across Bantry Bay, on a captain’s wife with a kerchief pressed against her mouth because she could not bear the smell of the harbour. Gone was the timid, sickly looking woman who had rushed off in her carriage as soon as it was politic, replaced with this confident, sensual creature.

                   “I was looking for…” whispered Bligh. His voice sounded childlike and tiny amongst the oak beams.

                   “You were looking for Ugly Bertha,” prompted the woman, her voice low and melodious. Bligh could smell orange blossom from the woman, the scent replacing the dank rot of the hold.

The woman held out her arms to each side of her petite shoulders. “Here she is.”

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part Four

Read part one here…

Read part two here…

Read part three here…

The sound of rolling glass permeated Bligh’s slumber and he woke slowly to the smell of rot and dampness. Looking down from his repose, he saw an empty olive-green rum bottle rolling from beneath the surgeon’s desk and under a hammock occupied by Harper. The young topman lay sleeping and, judging by the rum fumes emanating from him, was well sedated. From what he could see of the boy’s ankles, Bligh did not think that the boy would ever again climb rigging. On top of the table lay slouched the surgeon himself, drunk. Bligh sighed and looked around him. As a place of well-being and recuperation, the sick bay of the Cleopatra left a lot to be desired. Situated in the aft part of the lower deck, there was little light and even less fresh air. Bligh took a moment to wonder why surgeons, always lecturing about how bad airs contributed to disease, were put to work in one of the dankest, dingiest parts of the ship.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part Three

Read part one here…

Read part two here…

The scene that enveloped Bligh as he reached the deck was staggering in scale. Screams and shouts issued a group of women who were being forced to the hammock nettings of the ship by marines at bayonet point. Herded together like a writhing ball of herring, Bligh wondered at just how many had come aboard since the ship had anchored. Curses and threats rained down from the wives and prostitutes, more than a few of whom were spitting and clawing at the marines. These were dockyard women; scarred, calloused, and capable of defending themselves.

Standing serenely on the poopdeck and supremely unconcerned by the tumult beneath him was Captain Cowan. A mass of seamen were gathered opposite the pressed women on the main deck, held at bay either by the marines or by the force of their Captain’s will.  Men who had grumbled and muttered at Acheson’s flogging a few days earlier were now dangerously close to open sedition. Glares of fierce hostility were directed up at the poop deck and fists were clenched in anger at the treatment of the women.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part Two

Read part one here…

It was two days after Captain Cowan’s arrival on HMS Cleopatra and the pale winter sun had spent itself, leaving the ship huddled in half-light on an iron-grey Bantry Bay. Any free time that the men had would usually be spent on the forecastle. There would be cock-fighting, story-telling, dancing, and dicing, but not today. Bligh was with the gun crew that he commanded, as well as a few others crowded around the galley stove. Its black hulk dominated the room, dimly lit by tallow candles sputtering inside lanterns of tin and translucent horn. Bligh preferred the company of his men as opposed to the other midshipmen in the cockpit, especially today.  He shivered, although whether at the damp threatening to invade every loose stitch in his clothing or the unease at what was being discussed he was not sure.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part One

1801, Bantry Bay, Ireland

Thirty.

A ship was comparable to a small town. There were glaziers and glassblowers, farmers and fishermen, shoe cleaners and snuff makers. Shoehorning such a population into a seventy-four gun ship like HMS Cleopatra however, meant that the intrigues and undercurrents that ran through any town were multiplied many times over.

Thirty-six.

Added to this already potent brew was the fact that the majority of seamen on board were not there by choice. After being pressganged into service, torn away from loved ones, and kept at sea for months on end, there was an unspoken contract between captain and crew stating that a seaman’s welfare was the responsibility of his commanding officer. This was an agreement that had just been trodden into the oaken planks by a pair of immaculately polished hessian boots.

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The Rectory | Short Story

There was no keening moan of wind through the exposed rafters, no shuddering of plate glass, no banging of a front door long-abandoned. The house was silent, its bay windows looking out onto the overgrown lawns like the bulbous eyes of a toad.

Paint peeled of course. Crows nested. The ragged gaps in the roof tiles grew wider. No sound escaped from the old place, though. Not that the locals went near enough to hear anything. They knew that the faded grey boards lay nailed tight over more that tattered insulation and cold copper piping.

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The Stretch | Short Story

Clink of bottle upon rock and cackle of teen laughter lie light upon the damp river air. It is cold. When hands are not cradling cheap cider they are thrust inside puffer jackets or, in the case of the boys, down jogging bottoms. Breath billows into the night along with swearing so thick it has become a tic rather than a conversational trait.

The boy pauses, crouched above the water. Six feet of rushing, peat-stained froth separate him from the drunken cheers of his classmates and glory. Six feet between him, the southern softie new to the area, and acceptance. The goading is loud in his ears, but both he and his fellow students know that the Stretch is no laughing matter.

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Hamnet | Book Review

Hamnet

Maggie O’Farrell

Tinder Press

ISBN: 9781472223821

£8.99

‘What is given may be taken away, at any time. Cruelty and devastation wait for you around corners, inside coffers, behind doors: they can leap out at you at any time, like a thief or brigand. The trick is never to let down your guard. Never think you are safe. Never take for granted that your children’s hearts beat, that they sup milk, that they draw breath, that they walk and speak and smile and argue and play. Never for a moment forget they may be gone, snatched from you, in the blink of an eye, borne away from you like thistledown.

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