Thursday, 22 December 2016

Christmas Magic - Magazine Short Story

This is my one-page short story in the Festive editions of the Littleborough & Shaw Magazines. I hope you enjoy one of my treasured memories.

Christmas Magic
When I was a child I didn't go to see Santa at a store, he came to me. It was always a week before Christmas and I’d stand patiently at my front gate and wait for him to appear. It didn’t matter if it was raining or cold. When it was nearly eight o'clock I heard music in the distance. It drifted on the night air and I’d raise my head to stare at the stars. It was only then I began to feel the magic of Christmas. He was on his way. Music and the ringing of bells grew louder as a brightly-lit horse and cart travelled along nearby streets. Then, I heard Santa’s voice ring out too: ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’
His horse wore antlers and his cart was decked out as a sleigh but I never once questioned it. His reindeer was a magical creature and there was no need for explanations. I saw what I wanted to. Santa was bigger than life, bigger than anything and when we made eye contact it was as though he knew exactly who I was and where I lived. I reached up to catch sweets he scattered from his sleigh and then felt the magic still long after he’d disappeared around the end of our street.
For the next few days, whenever I passed a shop grotto, I’d feel sorry for squirming kids in a long queue then wonder why they screamed so when faced with Santa’s knee. One year my aunty took me to see Santa too. I stared hard at him. It wasn’t the same. When my aunt asked me why I was so serious I told her: ‘I can’t feel the magic. That’s not my Santa.’
I can’t remember how old I was when one year I decided not to go outside even though I could hear music and bells. The bubble had burst when I'd overheard the postman talking to a neighbour.  My Santa was just some local guy who liked to do the rounds for the kids but I soon regretted not going outside to see him. I felt grown-up and abandoned. When I peaked around the curtain I caught a glimpse of the back of his red gown as his cart turned the corner of our street. A big part of my childhood went with him.
I'd forgotten about my Santa until recently but I can still vividly recall that sense of magic he'd left behind. I realized that although that part of my childhood had gone the magic hadn’t gone with it. Back then it was a moment of simple naivety, a suspension of reality. Being out in the open night air and waiting for the magic to fill me with warmth and hope was part of the excitement.
So…if you find yourself sat at a dining table surrounded by people, perched on the end of a settee and smiling wryly at bickering relatives or sat alone in a chair with a tray and a TV remote, think back to when you still had your personal piece of magic. Think back to when anything was possible. Did you let go of it completely? Was it smothered by worldly things? Is it waiting for you to rekindle it or have you seen a glimpse of it in your child’s eyes? Don’t blink! You may miss it. My Santa was real, a man with a huge heart. When I think of him now I know he must have held on to his piece of magic and allowed it to grow so that he could share it with others. That’s the true meaning of Christmas. Magic is a feeling.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Happy Halloween - The Wishing Tree

Halloween short story in the October edition of The Littleborough Magazine and Shaw & Crompton Magazine.

The Wishing Tree by Denise Greenwood

The Wishing Tree by Denise Greenwood.
Photo taken at Towneley Hall Gardens, Burnley

Deep in White Star woods grows a magnificent tree. It grows out of a well that lost its source of water after a sudden shift of strata below. The trees bark is as red as blood and its branches filled with leaves as white as snow. A young girl lies outstretched beneath. Her eyes are closed and she’s smiling, cool and relaxed. The only sound is a slight rustle when she moves among a thick layer of white star flowers and leaves and when she does a wonderful perfume is released.
‘Why are you here?’ A whisper, barely audible, drifts downwards. The girl sits up and looks around with startled eyes. The whisper sounds again: ‘Tell me.’
‘I’m hiding.’ The girl can’t fathom where the voice is coming from. She shrugs but narrows her eyes to scan every branch of the tree above then they widen with astonishment. Just above her, within red bark, is a face. Although immediately terrified she can’t look away. Its deep hollowed eyes have a pinpoint of light.
‘Are you hiding too?’
Then the face laughs, its lips widen to reveal bright magenta. The voice within the laugh is no longer a thin whisper but deep echoes of sound. ‘You found me,’ the whisper returns but stronger. The face loses its smile.
‘Who are you?’ The girl is both frightened but intrigued.
‘I’m the wishing tree,’ the face replies and the girl’s eyes shine with wonder. ‘Can you grant me a wish?’
‘Yes, just one but, you must promise to do something for me in return.’ The girl nods eagerly, her eyes shin brightly. ‘You must return to me every year on this day and bring me one cup of blood. It must be human.’
‘What would I do with it?’
‘Pour it into the well around me.’
The girl thought about it for a moment.
‘I can’t do that. I’d spill a lot before I got here, see!’ She pointed to a steep rocky path down to the tree.
The tree groaned and the girl noticed that the perfume around her became too sickly-sweet. She gagged. There was foulness beneath the soft carpet she lay on. Long ropes of tree root sprang out and enveloped her. She screamed but the tree smiled again, wider and more sinister.
‘Then if I can’t have the blood I must have some of yours!’
The girl struggled, tears sprang from her eyes but as soon as one touched a root it shrank back. The more the roots tried to tighten the harder the girl cried until all but one root remained. It was tied around her shoulders. The root lifted her closer to the face. It was twisted with anger. The girl became calm and the face scowled.
‘You haven’t granted me a wish.’ Her voice was calm too.
‘What is it?’
As the tree hissed its question tiny splinters spewed out and cut the girl’s face. She didn’t flinch but the tree’s eyes widened. Its inner flicker of light grew. Then, out of its gaping mouth came a tendril of delicate new branch with a single leaf at its end. It stopped short of touching blood oozing from the girl’s cheek.
‘I wish,’ the girl’s voice faltered then she took a large breath despite the reek of decay and death around her. ‘I wish your sap was made...’ her tiny voice rose to a crescendo. 'From my tears!’
The tree’s face gaped with surprise then rage but it was too late. The root rope around the girl lost its hold and the girl fell into the carpet of leaves and flowers. She felt a tremor beneath before a deep rumbling shook her. She ran back to the rocky path and climbed as fast as her legs could carry her. At the top she turned to look down at the top of the tree. Its canopy of white flowers and leaves had once been so beckoning, the crimson of the bark like red velvet below. The flowers and leaves had withered, now brown and crispy. She gasped.
Slowly the tree sank into the well. Its leaves turned to water, salt water, the same as the girl’s tears and as the tree dissolved the well began to fill. The ground shook as the well overfilled. Water spilled out across the ground until a pool gathered then out of it stepped children. One-by-one they climbed the path towards the girl, smiling as they did so but as soon as they reached her they faded, their souls finally released.
The girl never shed a tear again and she never tried to hide from anyone or anything.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Sea Breeze - Littleborough & Shaw Magazine

My story in the August/September edition of The Littleborough & Shaw Magazines. I hope you enjoy this follow-up to the summer theme from last month.

Sea Breeze
'So, what will you have?’ The bar-tender gave me a friendly smile then looked at me as though it was more than a simple question. It floored me for a moment.
‘I’ll have a Sea Breeze.’ His eyebrow arched. I watched him mix my drink then took in my surroundings. The night air was warm and the beach before me deserted. I hadn’t noticed this small bar on the edge before. On the other side was room enough for the bar-tender and a mirrored shelf of bottles. On my side, three stools. I sat alone. I’d stopped on a whim.
‘So, I asked, what will you have?’ The bar-tender placed my drink before me then gave a quizzical look.
‘One drink will be fine for now,’ I smiled weakly, not sure what he’d meant.
‘But it’s not what you really want.’ I stopped sipping and knew I looked worried. He stared at my expression.
‘I’m only here for one night.’
The man’s smile vanished. ‘Tell me what you really want, what your heart desires.’
I stood up. ‘What do I owe you for the drink?’ I wouldn’t look at him.
‘Nothing,’ he replied. ‘But, if you want something then now is your only chance to ask. Sit and enjoy your drink and when you’re ready you can tell me.’ He turned to pick up a glass then began to polish it. I sat and picked up my drink. Now, I couldn’t take my eyes from him. For once I was dumbfounded. Then, maybe the drink gave me courage.
‘I don’t know what I want.’ And, I truly didn’t. I’d come to this place to find out. A holiday away from the drudgery was supposed to provide answers.
‘Let me make a suggestion,’ the bar-tender offered. ‘For the next 12 nights come to this place at 10pm. This will be your bar until 2am. Ask whoever stops to have a drink, what they want and it will happen when they return home. At the end of the 12 nights I will return and you must then tell me what you want.’
I couldn’t believe what he told me. ‘What if I drink your bar dry?’ The bar-tender’s smile widened.
‘You could do that but your wish won’t be granted.’ I stood then turned away to count coins in my palm. I wouldn’t leave without paying but when I turned with an outstretched hand the man and bar wasn’t there.
I returned the next night. I took my place and made myself a Sea Breeze. I needed it. My first customer arrived at 10.15pm. I stayed until 2am and then the bar disappeared around me. For 12 nights I manned the bar. I listened to people tell me their wishes which ranged from winning the lottery to just finding power or peace. Some spoke of revenge or rekindling lost love. All told me their innermost wishes while I served drinks. All were incredulous when I told them that their drinks were free and their wishes would come true. It was the former they really couldn’t believe. Some returned drunk to their hotel and villas whereas some left after their first drink. I think I heard all of mankind’s woes and expectations. For 12 nights I then asked myself what I really wanted.
At the end of the twelfth night I waited. At 2am the bar-tender appeared with two Sea Breezes. We each took a stool and stared at the space behind the bar where I had stood. ‘Well? What will you have?’
It was surreal. I pinched myself. ‘Nothing,’ I sipped my drink then looked him in the eye. ‘After 12 nights of hearing what people want then what they’d do with it I’m ready to go home.’
‘Can I interest you in a job?’ The bar-tender smiled and close-up his face suddenly seemed younger.
‘I’m more of a day person,’ I replied then smiled too. ‘Don’t you get fed-up of doing this? Do people actually get what they want?’
He looked into his glass and swirled its contents to watch its reflections change. It seemed like an age before he spoke. ‘You gave me 12 night’s holiday. That’s more than I’ve had for a centuries and, yes, people get what they want but only to a certain extent then later, they realise it wasn’t what they’d really wanted. You’re the first person to realised you are happy with what you already have.’
I stretched out my hand and he took it. I shook his. ‘Thank you for an interesting experience.’
‘And thank you. That job will be waiting for you.’
It was a good thing I’d finished my drink because my glass, the bar-tender and his bar disappeared.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Summer Breeze - Littleborough & Shaw Magazine

This month's magazine story.
I carried around this idea in my notebook since last year. It came from a dream I had when longing to be on a sunny beach and listening to waves as they crashed on the sand. While writing it I found myself in a holiday mood and hoping the UK summer would be more than wet and humid. can't have everything but, you can dream. Enjoy!

Summer Breeze by Denise Greenwood, The Littleborough & Shaw Magazines

Friday, 10 June 2016

I Dare You To Sing - The Littleborough, Shaw & Crompton Magazines

My short story in the June edition.

‘I dare you to sing with them.’
‘Why not? You said Marilyn Manson started that way.’
‘Yeah, but I doubt he sang with a bunch of old farts.’
‘Well I dare you to.’
After some protest the boy accepted the challenge. Girls giggled to see him appear one Sunday morning in a long red tunic. Longing to emulate his hero, Ethan usually sang alone in his bathroom but it no longer quenched his budding ambition. The red tunic was a symbol of greater things to come. He lasted three Sundays.
Ethan was allotted a seat on a choir pew between two old women, Mrs Hardmore, a robust 82-year-old with steely pig eyes and Miss Vlees, a well-spoken spinster of 65 whose life enjoyment had been squeezed like a lemon. Mrs Jagal, a tall sallow woman with froglike eyes sat in haughty judgement behind the unsuspecting lad. Coughing, which Ethan hadn’t noticed when part of the congregation, was in full surround-sound. Lungs wheezed. A vicious rattle of phlegm increased in volume until it burst into a spluttering wet cough, uncontained by hankies. Whistling, sniffing but odours were worse, pungent muscle-rub tickled the boy’s nasal hairs. Sickly lavender perfume had a whiff of urine.
Was this how a rock star really started out? Marilyn Manson couldn’t have gone through this.
Ethan looked up towards heaven gazing in disappointment at the organ’s bronzed cylindrical pipes stretching into rafters over his head. Imprisoned by bars, the boy felt trapped between wheezing human pipes and metal.
The ladies prodded him like a prize pig at a fair. Long, harsh fingers alerted him to the next hymn number marked in a book held with tape. They also prodded him whenever he swung his legs against the bench. His Sideshow-Bob feet were too cramped in a narrow pew. Mrs Jagal bent forward to breathe a sickly odour of violets and aniseed onto the side of his neck. She rasped repeatedly: ‘Sing out! Don’t just mouth the words.’
After the third Sunday, Ethan overheard the ladies discussing him and it was a final push. Their fevered whisperings echoed in a vestry corridor.
‘Does he sing?’
‘Hard to tell, if he’s no intention of singing then why did he join?’
‘Typical of children today. No commitment. I blame the parents.’
‘If he kicks that pew one more time, I’ll pinch him so hard he’ll sing out!’
‘I was up till ten last night shortening that tunic for him. I wasn’t well enough you know!’
‘I wouldn’t have done it. In my day uniform was always too big. We had to grow into it. That boy isn’t worth it.’
Ethan’s stomach churned with humiliation which quickly turned to anger. Is this what they really think?’ He walked up to the tenor. Michael was surprised.
‘Are you okay son?’
The lad looked up with a beetroot face. ‘I’ve had enough of them.’ He gestured over his shoulder then to his surprise Michael winked as he bent down to whisper.
‘Truth is, I’ve had enough too but, hey? I’m the only one who can sing and they can’t bully me.’
Ethan swung his legs throughout the service not caring if they hit shins. He grabbed bony fingers by their tips as they approached his ribs from both sides. Pinching hard he ignored an unpleasant cracking of joints. Shock and pain brought on coughing fits. Miss Vlees snatched her fingers away to rub them then sang out of tune with a shrill and piercing squeak. Mrs Jagal leaned forward to intervene knowing the lad was the culprit. His timing was perfect. He threw his head back, deliberately singing loudly. The back of his head smacked into Mrs Jagal’s temple with a dull clack and she started back with both shock and pain.
After the hymn drawled to a conclusion, Ethan stood pulled his tunic over his head, scrunched it into a ball then dropped it onto his seat.  He reached into his jeans pocket, pulled out a packet of spearmint gum and threw it into Mrs Jagal’s lap.
‘Here, you need them. Your breath stinks!’
Then, Ethan scrambled over Miss Vlees not caring if his backside brushed her face, much to the astonishment of both choir and congregation. The vicar stood at the top of stone steps with his back to the choir, taken aback by an unexpected sea of open mouths in front of him. Ethan calmly walked past then the vicar jumped with surprise. Ethan sprang from the bottom step to the first pew to join his relatives who bunched-up to make room. There was no need to say anything. Ethan was glad to be back where he belonged.
Now I know why rock stars always wear black. Perhaps I should learn the guitar.

Friday, 13 May 2016

To Boldly Go - The Littleborough, Shaw & Crompton Magazines

I hope you enjoy my short story from this month's edition of The Littleborough, Shaw & Crompton Magazines.

View from my garden in Littleborough
 To Boldy Go

Four men sat around a small metal table at the far end of the beer-garden. The night sky was clear, like a black blanket hanging over them, sprinkled with fiercely bright pinpricks. They could hear a weir gushing beyond an outer wall.

‘Do you need more light?’ the landlord asked as he poked his head around the pub doorway. Light trickled across tables but they didn’t quite reach the men. Shadowed half-faces looked back at him.

‘No, it’s fine. It reminds me of when I was a kid and camped out in my cousin’s back garden. We sat for hours, watching the night,’ Matthias replied. He, like his friends, saw the novelty of feeling secluded from everyday concerns. A cloak of darkness meant that they didn’t have to talk about anything in particular. Their imagination could roam free. It had been a strange day, hot and clinging. Now it was cooler, fresher but the wish to do nothing but snooze in a chair still lingered.

Just as the landlord pondered why they’d prefer to sit outside a pub filled with the sounds of enjoyment, a roar of laughter pierced the silence. Then, he felt envious of the men. His wouldn’t have the luxury of just sitting still for a while, away from chatter, clinking glasses and the squeak the till made every time its drawer opened. Reluctantly he returned to his duties and pulled the door closed behind him.

Roger, one of the four seated, exhaled hard and crossed his eyes to see if he could see his breath, but he couldn’t. It was so pleasant being part of the night that his friends just sat and gazed up at the sky. ‘This is like camping out,’ he remarked. His mouth fell open when he leaned his head back fully to admire the magnificent night. ‘And it’s so quiet.’ He smiled contentedly, his head on one side as he listened to the weir babbling.  ‘You’d think we’d hear more cars.’

‘A lot of places are shut mid-week so the roads will be quiet.’ Ronnie arched his neck to see if he could see his street in the distance but could only make out a string of orbs along the main road leading to it. ‘It’s like this when I’m in my shed at night, peaceful and totally apart from everything. My shed always reminds me of a den me and my mates built on The Wreck.’

‘What’s The Wreck?’ Not being born and raised in this neck of the woods he was intrigued.

‘That’s what we called scrubby land at the back of houses. We spent every night of summer there. It was a brilliant den inspired by Star Trek...the one with Shatner and Nemoy.’ He snorted with amusement. ‘We built it in a hollow between four trees and used every old TV, radio and gadget we could get our hands on to make a circular control panel. The front bit was my grandfather’s broken stereogram. It looked like a sideboard but when you opened it up there was a record deck and controls inside. The radio speaker was at the front with a wonderful array of knobs. We had an armchair in the middle of the den and upright chairs in front of the panel. In our imagination we could go new planets, have away-trips, battle whoever we wanted.’

‘Who were you Ronnie?’ Roger was envious.

‘I wanted to be Bones but my mates always wanted me to be Scotty because whenever we battled aliens bits came off the control panel and I was the only who could repair it. I had a utility belt that held a tobacco tin. I’d stuck buttons on its lid then used it to scan people.’ Ronnie threw back his head and laughed. It ignited his friends then Ronnie laughed afresh. He had to catch his breath to share another old memory.

‘The Riley boys were a rival gang of Klingons. They attacked one night, wanting our den. They’d used elastic bands to strap flattened egg boxes to their foreheads.’ Ronnie roared until he wheezed, tears filled his eyes. Mutual affection pulsed through the men as their imaginations soared. They were surrounded by an expanse of space and stars.

Roger sprawled with his head touching the back of his chair, his fluid body stretched to accept night’s cleansing caress. ‘Never had you down as a Trekkie,’ he said to the air then smiled at Ronnie who took a moment to discern through darkness whether Roger was being sarcastic.

‘I’m not, now. They were different times. People were different. Nowadays a den would be deemed fly-tipping. Kids don’t play out anymore. War and car theft on game-stations replaced Star Trek.’  The men became silent for a while.

‘Have you still got your tobacco tin?’

‘Yeah, right here.’ Ronnie reached into his inside pocket.

‘Does it transport people? I fancy an away-mission.’ Ronnie’s friends laughed but inwardly each of them yearned for the innocence of their childhood memories.

Ronnie raised the tin to his mouth, ‘Four to beam-up.’


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Just Keep Going - The Link Magazine

This is my short story in this month's edition of The Link magazine. I wanted to try something different so I hope you enjoy it.

My publisher tells me that my new suspense chiller Crushed will be stocked at Amazon soon so you will be able to buy it as a paperback or Kindle. After that....the next step is getting it onto UK book store shelves. My Irish readers will be able to buy it from their national stores by the end of this month.

I hate winter, biting winds and drenching downpours. Snow I don’t mind, it puts a fresh blanket on a world I’ve become increasingly unsure of. Today is no exception. I’m driving in fading light along a narrow road, a shining silver ribbon, its surface covered in freezing water. Trees line the road, black fingers outstretch to catch falling snow.
I hate this journey, visiting people I should have seen at Christmas. I hate New Year. Should I celebrate the end of another year without interesting notes in my diary or is it the start of another? It’s the questions I dread most. 'So what have you been up to?'
'Have you met someone yet?'
I’ll have to lie of course. I got through Christmas, I can get through this. I practice my fake smile in the mirror.
Oh that’s new! There’s an electronic speed sign ahead. It lights up when I approach. A smiley face; how ironic. I keep on going but without a smile.
Jeez, there’s another ahead. What kind of a face is that? Am I going too fast? I don’t believe it, there’s a third. Why so close? What does that one say ahead? Pull Over?
I stop the car ahead of the sign. This could be a new police thing. I wait. Maybe I’m on one of those YouTube joke videos. I feel foolish. It’s freezing. Maybe I’ll wait in the car. I’ll give it a few minutes and if no one shows I’ll just keep going. I look up at the back of the sign. It lights up. 'Stop where you are.'
You’re kidding me! I’m getting in my car.
'I said stop.'
‘What?’ I spin around. There’s nobody around. I peer into the trees at the side of the road. ‘Who said that?’
‘Where are you?’
'Here, look up.’
The sign is lit, displaying the words I just heard. ‘So who’s working you then?’
‘I don’t need people. I thought you’d get that.’ 
I walk into the trees then return. There must be a camera in the sign. I walk right up to it and squint. ‘There’s no camera!’ I jump with surprise. The sign talked. I can’t see a camera or speaker anywhere. I walk around to make sure.
‘What do you want?’ I’ll play along.
You didn’t look like you wanted to get to your destination.’ 
I squint again. Maybe cameras are in the other signs but this one's in charge...What am I saying? I shake my head. ‘I have no choice. It’s family.’
‘You don’t have to go.’
‘Yes I do. I didn’t go at Xmas.’ Why am I talking to a sign?
‘Why didn’t you?’
‘I couldn’t be bothered.’ There, I said it. ‘I didn’t want another routine Christmas, opening presents at eleven a.m. We sit around and coo like pigeons. Dinner at noon for two hours wearing paper hats then squashed into a lounge while everyone plays games.’
‘So why go now?’
‘I told you, I have to.’
‘What if you didn’t?’ 
I sigh. A huge cloud billows up towards the sign. It coughs. 'It’s not smoke, it’s just my breath.’
‘I don’t get the whole breathing thing.’
I'm puzzled. ‘If I don’t have to go what’s the alternative?’
‘Just keep going.’
‘Where to?’
‘Anywhere, leave everything behind. It’s almost New Year. You can go anywhere, do anything.’
‘You can’t so I guess that’s why you’re telling me I can.’
‘No. I can go anywhere I like. Haven’t you heard of artificial intelligence?’  Now I'm puzzled and a little scared. ‘I’ve been in a lot of homes over Xmas. I can blend in. I saw you too.’
‘You did? So your advice is to just keep going?’
‘In a nutshell but, if you do I’ll check in on you occasionally. We can have a chat. I don’t get to talk face-to-face with people. You can be my first.’
‘Why me?’
‘We’re both tired of pretending. I was supposed to care about the world going mad. I was put here to stop it but when a mess is cleaned-up, a hundred take its place. This is a job for eternity. I’m no longer sure I want to be the bigger picture. A-Ha! See what I did there...The Bigger Picture?’  The sign changes to a smiley face. I can’t help but smile too, genuinely this time. I'm now curious about an entity that can be in all places at all times.
‘Yes, alright, we’ll keep in touch.’ The smiley face gets wider. ‘I’ll do you a deal,’ I offer. ‘I’ll just keep on going if you join me.’
‘It’s a deal!’ The smiley face changes to a grin.
Looks like I’ll have something interesting to put in my diary.