Colin Alcock

It's not just the books.

SHORT STORIES • POETRY & RHYME • FLASH FICTION • PHOTOS • VIDEOS • LINKS TO NOVELS

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JUST ME

Jack of all trades, master of some. That's my own assessment of a life where I've tried many things, done well in a few, failed in a few, but generally kept my head above water in this fast flowing river of life.

Now, I'm in calmer waters, having joined that band of retirees who can choose when to get up in the morning. Most days, anyway.

This website showcases some of my writing and some of my images and is a fluid selection, changed at the occasional whim to provide new works or older, but previously unseen material.

So, more may be added, a few items may disappear and maybe the style will change as it grows organically; for that's the serendipitous way I tend to do things.

I hope you enjoy what you find.

As for my background, click the button below for a brief resumé.

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Paul Hewitt believed he had found the perfect partner in Giules Franciotti, unaware of the missions that she and her feisty sister, Maria, kept secret from him - until he, too, was drawn into one, with a disastrous result.

As a consequence, all three lives are threatened before a disastrous finale exposes the truth.

A dark plot, but a light read.
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When Anne Grant invited her son to a Christmas Lunch at Arden Ash, without telling Edna Gray, all she had intended was to show an independence of spirit and less need for the constant guidance offered by her self-appointed mentor.

She didn’t expect the kind of interest his introduction would arouse – or that a train of events among her new acquaintances would lead to such tragic consequences.

For those who like a good page-turner.
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Some see the dandelion as an evil weed, others recall the beauty of a wildflower spread across a sunlit field.

Whichever your point of view, this compilation provides a varied collection of prose, poetry and rhyme to match many a mood.

A book that you can dip into at random.

What's new this month?

A spooky tale of a boy in a bookshop.

(Click here) to read February's "Simon's Tale".

A darker flash fiction, just below on this page,
conveys a serious thought.

"Boxed".

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Hungry Gulls

These black capped gulls, in their winter plumage, were screeching and diving for bread being thrown to them. Some picked up from the lakeside, but many showed their aerial skills caching the bread in flight.

The lake, in Brueton Park, Solihull, has these gulls all year around, as well as a variety of swans, ducks, geese and other waterfowl, and there is a heronry on another small lake in the park's nature sanctuary.
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Hungry Gulls in Brueton Park, Solihull, Warwickshire.
Note the expert catching bread in mid-air.

Boxed


There’s not much that you can do, stuck in a box barely big enough to lie down in: even if it is plushly lined with a bit of faux silk and foam padding. But that’s it; I’m here now and not going anywhere.

I always dreaded being buried alive; but then I’m not alive anymore. It’s an odd feeling. Everything has stopped working, but something inside of me just keeps ticking over. It tells me I’m six feet under, yet despite that, I have no fear. A bit cold yes, but this is damp ground. It’s the old church cemetery, not far from the river.

It’s also the one place I can’t make a complete fool of myself. To start with, I’m not complete. I’m missing my left foot and my right arm. It’s what you get for standing behind the guy who steps on a landmine. God knows what they found to put in his coffin. Not much more than his ID tag, I guess. And those above will have stopped looking for any of my missing bits, or his, long ago.

I feel sorry for the families. At least mine got to see my battle scarred face, before putting me to rest. But his: just a box lowered into the ground. Nothing worth cremating even, so they couldn’t scatter ashes. But then, that’s the real cost of war.

Now, as I wait for the bright light and a summons to the spiritual world, I’m glad, although somewhat surprised, that there’s still some communication down here. Something of me still exists. But I do hope I get that call soon.

I feel sorry for you, too. And for your family. Because, if you can hear all this, you must only be a few boxes along.

Bookshop assistant for Simon

Simon's Tale

I was late leaving the house, so I was pedalling hard and didn’t see the van turn into the street. It couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. And I ended up in a heap against the front of the bookshop. Though actually on time, for once. But all went black. Then white. And then nothing. I don’t remember getting up and dusting myself off. Or being taken anywhere.

The first thing I remember was that my mug wasn’t on the worktop, in the bookshop’s back kitchenette. You know: the Star Wars one. Must be a new cleaner, I thought, trying to impress. She’d stuck it right at the back of the wall cupboard, almost out of reach. Anyway, I got it down and made a brew, then went into the stockroom to see what had come in. Someone had already opened all the boxes and packages. They must have come in early. That was my job, usually. No new Star Wars or Harry Potters, a load of dreary non-fiction and a few thrillers and romances. Picking up the pile set aside for display, I went out front to drop the titles on the appropriate shelves and tables. Meghan, that’s my boss, and Julie, my senior, were at the counter looking all weepy. I think some poor kid had died or something. I didn’t want any sob stuff and as there were no customers, I went back to tidy up the rubbish from the morning’s delivery.

After putting it out in the yard for recycling, I came back in and I heard Meghan ask Julie ‘When did you put out the new stock and did you notice that there was the latest ‘Rebus’ amongst them?’

‘No,’ Julie said. ‘I thought you’d put them all out.’

‘No. Not unless I’m going senile. I can’t remember doing it.’

‘You’re still upset. We both are. I think we’re just doing some things automatically,’ Julie responded.

I thought I must ask them who they were grieving over. But not yet. I’d better be tactful: I’m probably supposed to know. Then I got a shock. It was the end of the month and I was looking forward to my pay going in to the bank, but I couldn’t find my phone to check via the app. I was sure I had it when I set out. So, I went outside and looked on the pavement in front of the shop, just in case it had dropped out of my pocket, when I came a cropper. Nothing there; but then, if someone had spied it, they would probably have thought it was their lucky day; Christmas and birthday all rolled into one. It was a top model iPhone.

I knew it couldn’t have been handed in to the other two. They’d have known it was mine. And, for some reason, both the other two seemed to be avoiding me, so I didn’t get a chance to ask. They hadn’t said a word since I arrived; blanked me when I passed either of them and seemed intent on keeping busy. And now with plenty of customers browsing and buying (well some of them) they didn’t even send me on the usual, and often futile, trip to the basement, for some extinct title or other, that the old guy with the thin, straggly grey beard, had come in for. If it’s not on the database, it’s not there, I kept telling them. But every now and then they had to prove me wrong. I was only the junior, what was I supposed to know?

Then came the second shock. A worse one. We each had one Saturday a month and one day a week off, except Bank Holiday weeks and just before Christmas. I looked at the rota for next month. I wasn’t there. Not my name. Not my days off. Not which Saturdays I was working. The part-timer, a young student I quite fancied – but don’t tell her – had been given some extra days; but I wasn’t even on the list. That’s it then. Come Friday, I’m getting the push. I wanted to rush out and demand why, but Meghan was with a customer and I thought better than to cause a scene. Let her tell me when she’s ready. She’ll get a mouthful from me, but at least I’ll have considered what to say. I’ve not shirked, I reckon I’ve put a lot more into this job than I’ve been paid for, at times. I suppose her excuse will be hard times, last in, last out and all that guff. So, I decided to wait. Then think about a tribunal, perhaps. Or a letter to the papers. It’s definitely not fair.

It certainly explains why I’ve been given the cold shoulder, today. Julie must know. She must be scared she’d let on, before Meghan announced it to me. And it’s not that the bookshop is even doing badly. I reckon I packed more mail order books than ever, these last few months, and, apart from early in the mornings, we’ve always got customers mooching around. Well it goes to show. You just don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. What they’re saying about you. How you stand with the boss.

‘Have you been using Simon’s mug, Julie?’ It was Meghan. She better not have.

‘No. Why would I do that? I’m not that insensitive.’ said Julie, ‘It could have been the postman. I told him to make himself a coffee, while I packed up that special order, to save him coming back to collect it. But he usually takes the blue mug off the top, not one out of the cupboard.’

‘Well, if it wasn’t him, we must have a poltergeist.’ That was Meghan, again.

You know, I’ve often wondered about things like that, when I’ve found books in the wrong place. Not that I believe in ghosts, mind.

The rest of the day was busy and I carried on with nary a word spoken to me by those two. Mostly I was mulling over my position and not wanting to talk to them, either. I gave the stockroom a good tidy and even when I went out to the front, no customers approached me. Did they know something, too? No. that’s just being paranoid.

So, the day ended and it was home time. Now you’ve heard the expression “everything happens in threes”. Well it’s true. I keep my bike locked up down the arched passage way, two shops down. It only goes to the short, dead ended snicket at the back of the shops, so no one uses it much. Point is, it keeps the bike out of the rain and the saddle dry. But this time, the bike had gone the same way as my phone. I couldn’t believe it. I was distraught. Had the whole world turned against me? I’d come out in a hurry with only a little loose change in my pocket, so I knew I didn’t have the bus fare back and it was a five-mile walk to our house. And cold, sleety rain was starting to fall.

I pulled up my collar close around my neck and looked up and down the street to see if there was one of the community police around. Of course not, they’d all be making calls at the coffee shops or somewhere else where it’s warm. And I don’t blame them for that. Best foot forward, I think to myself, then I set off, passing this screaming brat, shouting and thumping his mother and refusing to go the way she wanted him to. Mind you, his mother’s face was so red I could have warmed my hands on it, from a yard’s distance. ‘If you don’t come right now,’ she screamed, ‘I’ll drop you off at The Tower and you can stay there all night.’ He shut up, sharpish. He’d obviously been told all about that place, before.

The Tower was used as a threat for all the local kids. Tradition. It scared the Hell out of me, to think of it, when I was a littlun. In reality, it was an old, red-brick water tower, pre-Victorian, I think, that had rooms in it. Haunted rooms. The home of the bogeyman. The lodge to the Gates of Hell. All sorts of queer sightings of strange lights, headless bodies and wispy ghouls, surrounded its history – and most of them, I reckon, thought up by frantic parents with hysterical children to put to bed. I know better, now, of course.

I pulled my shoulders up in a shiver, even though my kagoul was fleecy lined, and walked a little faster. I had to pass The Tower on my way and it was as I approached it in the looming darkness that I noticed it had a strange sort of glow, though there were no lights in any of the windows. Then the door opened and a little outside light came on, illuminating a short statured figure in a long coat reaching, almost down to his black boots. It was the old books guy with the straggly beard and he called out a cheery ‘Hello, Simon. You took your time.’

I helloed him back and was about to rush on by, when he continued, ‘You should have been here long before now.’ And, for the first time, I really realised something was up, when he continued, ‘Welcome to the Ghost House. Your place is here, now. Come, have a look. Your name’ s on the board.’

He’s got some ruse to get me in there, I thought, but I’m not daft. But I am inquisitive, so I went over and asked what he meant. He looked me up and down, sighed and said, ‘You really don’t know, do you? You think you’re still mortally alive. You don’t know what’s happened to you. Just step into the porch, where its dry.’

At least that made sense. It was like being drilled by icicles standing outside. So, not having much to go home to, that night, and probably no job after the week ended, no phone and no bike, not much worse could come of it, could it? Well it did. The old man told me I was dead. Had been for over two weeks and my funeral was three days ago. What I’d been doing over all that time I can’t tell you. Seems even ghosts can suffer from amnesia.

The short of it is, he showed me the newspaper clipping about the sad case of a young cyclist who died, crashing into his own workplace. Showed me the name: Simon Calshaw. That’s me. Showed me the glowing testimonials from Meghan and Julie, in my obituary, and the kind words about me at the front of the Order of Service. And finally, he took me up three flights of stairs to a large dining room, which had once been the water tank, where every chair around a long oak table had a name on it. One had mine. And what looked like an honours board with hundreds of names of past guests. At the end was mine, one of several recently inscribed.

Now, I had no recollection of when the paramedics tried to save me, nor being carted off to a morgue, nor being made to look tidy and finally lowered into the ground, to the tears of my Dad, Mum and little sister, Kellie. I vaguely remember my bike bouncing off a post van, then darkness, then this bright, white light, then nothing – until I was searching for my Star Wars mug in the kitchenette. After that, everything had felt a bit strange. The whole day I seemed to have been invisible and if, as the old guy said, I’m a ghost, that could explain a lot. So, I asked him what’s next? He said, ‘You stay here for a while and learn about all the ghostly illusions you can use to make people you like happy and disturb those you don’t. You can choose to be helpful, annoying or downright frightening, but there is a moral code for you to stick to, or your ghostly powers can be subjugated by your elders.

‘Look in the mirror,’ old grey beard said. I did and saw nothing but the room behind me. I wasn’t there. ‘You won’t see yourself until you discover how. It’s like being born again, but starting much further down the line.’

I was shown to a tiny room with a velvet lined gold casket about twice the size of my aunt’s tea caddy. ‘That’s all the space you need for now and you’ll find it quite cosy. Spirits can contract and expand at will. Good job, or we would never fit you all in. We’ll help you find your own place, later.’

So, it seemed I had come to a ghost guest house of some sort and I wasn’t welcome at home any more. Not without a body, anyway.

Next day, I met more of my kind and was soon shown the ropes of ghosthood. I acquired a taste for performing practical jokes on unsuspecting townsfolk, in the day. Hiding things and making them reappear in places they wouldn’t expect. At night I usually went back to the bookshop. I’d look at the order lists and make sure the right titles were in the right place. Result: Julie got praised for her efficiency – and an increase in pay.

I didn’t like the spotty, snotty nosed youth they had got to replace me and he was not using my mug again, after the first time I found he had. I didn’t show myself, but I nudged the cleaner’s hand as she was tidying the kitchenette and she dropped it on the tiled floor. Shame, I liked that mug, but I’ve grown out of such material pleasures, except for books. I still like books. Anyway, over the next couple of days I spruced a few corners the cleaner had missed and she, too, got praise from Meghan – but no extra money.

I’ve also popped home a few times and kept an eye on Kellie. Just stopped her falling in the pond, once, but other than a few comforting whispers that she believes are her own thoughts, I keep out of the family’s way. I don’t want to risk freaking them out. But I do want them to stop grieving and be happy again. I think Kellie can bring that spark back, with the odd nudge or two.

You know, it’s not bad, this ghost lark. You don’t have to go haunting unless you’re into that; like when you’ve met an untimely end at someone else’s hand. And I’ve only got myself to blame for my early start in the spirit world. The post van driver got enough frights for a lifetime, seeing me sail across his bonnet. One day I’ll make it up to him, somehow, but I’ve still a lot to learn about making good things happen, without being noticed and giving him another fright.

I still miss the buzz of the bookshop. Especially the one I got from working with Julie, even if she was six years older. And the part-timer even more so. But the best thing is, I can go to the bookshop at night, without having to open any doors, then pick a good book and sit back in the stock room for a nice long read. That really is the thing I like most.

Though, I must stop my habit of turning down page corners to mark my place. It annoys the customers ever so, when they see it.


~~~

Story Photo © Plastilino | Dreamstime.com