Friday, 28 December 2012

Timber (Part 2)

“Anyway,” said Tommy, shuffling his freezing feet across the compacted ice, “As I said, I thought I’d better talk to you. About your tree.”

“My tree?” Now Sally was a mix of emotions, and so confused that even the simplest words weren’t making sense.

Your Christmas tree.” Tommy pointed in the general direction of the living room. “It really shouldn’t be there. I can see it from the window, you see, and I’m worried about it.” The boy really did look worried. He bit his lip as he spoke and wrung his hands together. It worried Sally more than she liked, and she leaned down to him.

“What’s wrong with it?” she whispered. Her thoughts ran to angry neighbours, light being blocked, a stray electrical spark fizzing in the window… Her heart raced, and her eyes stung with the sudden pressure of fear. “What’s the matter?”

Tommy leaned in to meet her. He lowered his voice to match hers. “It’s Twelfth Night. The tree… it has to come down, or you’ll have bad luck for all the year!” He spoke as though he meant it, pure panic now running through his words, and across his face.

Sally, relieved that it was nothing serious and mildly angry that Tommy had scared her as he had, stood up straight, made sure no little fingers or toes were in the way, and pushed the door closed. Hard. Loud.

What did the boy know? If she wanted to keep her tree up all the year round, she could. It was none of his business. And as for all this Twelfth Night superstition, bad luck forever, she couldn’t be doing with it. She liked the tree, liked the idea that Christmas hadn’t happened yet, liked the build up and the anticipation. So no, she would not take the tree down just because a child was afraid of an old, old story. A silly story. A nonsense story.

Sally stalked back into the living room, her breath coming fast in her irritation. Silly boy. And then she saw the tree and was so pleased to see it that she slumped against the doorframe just to stare at it. The Night Before Christmas came back into her head, and she saw her television and the Radio Times and her chair and decided that she would forget the strange morning she had had, and watch her film.

She had just enough time to make a cup of tea and gather together a lunch of Jammie Dodgers and Custard Creams on a plate. It was Christmas, after all. What better time to eat strange things and treat oneself?

She had a Christmas card to open as well.

Sally was still clutching it, and she could feel the stiff greeting between her fingers. She ripped open the envelope and pulled out the card, eager to read it, nervous to read it. She took in the front of it, a photograph of footprints in the snow, and then went to the inside. She scanned the festive greeting and the glitter and the long, long note, and let her eyes rest on the name at the bottom.


Oh! Sally felt her face break into a genuine smile, happy, warming, her fingers tingling with pleasure. She forgot the film, and she forgot the biscuits. Her tea went cold. The tree kept twinkling and the darkness came. She read and re-read the note inside the Christmas card from her adored niece, and the more she read it, the happier she became. The girl – barely a teenager when she last saw her – was coming home. She had moved to Australia with her parents twenty years before, and Sally, not able to afford the travel, had only seen snapshots of her life since then. But now she was coming back, bringing with her a husband and three children; two girls and a little boy.

And she wanted to visit. She wanted, in fact, for Sally to show them around the area, since she was going to rent a house just down the road.

Finally, Sally would have a family again.

Sally glanced at the tree. At the presents. At the calendar. At the card. Three days. They would be here in just three days, and there was so much to do.

With a smile and a shake of her head, Sally launched herself out of the chair. She span around the house gathering more biscuits, cakes, savoury snacks, she even found a bottle of fizzy pop at the very back of the larder and a tin of drinking chocolate in the corner of a cupboard. She laid everything out on the coffee table in the living room and shrugged herself into her warm winter coat. Wellies snagged on too. And then she made her move, out of her door, across the path, and up the step of her neighbour’s. She rang the bell. She waited, understanding how Tommy had felt earlier. She should have invited him in, poor kid.

Eventually the door opened and Tommy peeped out. He was wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown and Mickey Mouse slippers. He looked sleepy, and Sally felt even more guilty than she had before. But she knew she had to do this. “Tommy, are your parents in?”

They were, of course. They appeared, curious.

Sally had to laugh. “Can Tommy come over to mine please?” she asked, feeling ten again. “I’ve got a little job for him to do. I understand it’s a little late, but it won’t take long. And you’re welcome to come.”

Before they could say no – which they would have done if given the chance – Tommy leapt up and grabbed their hands. “Mummy! Dad! Please can I? Please? I’ll be good and go to bed straight after!”

There was no denying that face, those excited words, the joy.

Tommy’s parents sat on the unused sofa in Sally’s living room. Uncomfortable at first, they began to relax when Sally offered them food and drinks and began to chat about her life and her family. They would have talked for hours, the old woman’s life had been so interesting, but Tommy grew bored. This was not why he was here. He tugged at Sally’s sleeve and pointed at the prettily twinkling tree. “Can we?” he asked, whispering as though to break the magic. “It’s getting late. It’ll be tomorrow soon.”

Sally nodded. “I don’t need any bad luck now. I’ve got too much good to look forward to.”
She took the boy’s hand and led him to the Christmas tree, taking in the beauty for the last time until December. “Are you ready?” she asked, looking down at Tommy. He nodded, bouncing on the soles of his feet. “All right then. Timber!”

©Lisamarie Lamb 2012

Friday, 21 December 2012

Timber (Part 1)

’Twas the night before Christmas… Only it wasn’t. It hadn’t been for some time now, the festivities over, the food eaten, the jolly, happy, Christmassy spirit starting to leak away from the people in the street. There were no more cheery smiles, and no more strangers wishing one another a merry Christmas, a happy new year.

Sally was less inclined to worry about the date these days. She had the traditional old verse in her head and ran it through and through and over again, smiling at the words as she sat and watched the twinkling lights on her plastic Christmas tree. They sparkled like coloured diamonds and she felt calmed, almost hypnotised, by them. Underneath the tree was a handful of presents, neatly wrapped, each one covered in red paper patterned with holly leaves; each one tied with a golden bow.

They looked beautiful. It all looked beautiful.

Sally knew that Christmas had been and gone, and she was aware that the presents were still waiting patiently to be opened, but if she did that, if she ripped away the paper and delved into the goodies beneath, then what was left? It would be over then, and she would have to face the reality of another year gone, another Christmas spent alone with only the gifts she had bought herself for company.

So she did not open them.

Instead she sat, content, and whispered the old poem to herself and the prettily decorated room.

A knock at the door roused her, and she frowned at no one. Perhaps if she waited long enough they would go away and leave her alone. But the knock came again, louder, and Sally shifted in her seat. One more time, she told herself. If they knock once more, I’ll go to the door.
There was another knock.

With a sad sigh, Sally rocked out of her seat and shuffled to the door, her slippers sliding along the polished wooden flooring. She stood on tiptoes and peered out of the spyhole, hoping the person would have gone away in the time it had taken her to get to the door.

They had.

Instead of looking out and meeting a stranger’s eyes, she saw no one. Her first feeling was one of relief, but disappointment came quickly on the heels of it. It might have been nice to have someone to speak to.

Sally’s hand fell to the door handle, and she left it there for a moment, thinking. She could open the door anyway. She could open the door and lean out into the bitter wind and see if she could spot her visitor retreating and maybe, possibly, if she could make her voice heard above the coming storm, she might be able to entreat them to return to her, to try again.

Without knowing exactly why, regretting it as soon as it happened, Sally pressed down, pushed down on the handle, and pulled the heavy door towards her. She made to lean out, but a small face stopped her. It was grinning up at her with gapped teeth and dimples.

Sally said nothing because she couldn’t think of anything to say. The shock of finding a small child, grimy and jolly, on her doorstep when she had been expecting no one numbed her tongue and froze her brain for an instant. It was just long enough for the child – a boy – to speak in a high pitched tone, full of conviction; “Oh, you’re in. Good. I wanted to tell you something.” He waited, not moving from the step, for Sally to respond.

She wished she was still in her chair, watching the fairy lights on her Christmas tree and reciting poetry to herself. “Where are your parents?” she managed to croak, not having spoken aloud in a proper voice for some time. A whisper to herself was all she had uttered for months.
The boy looked nonplussed. He clearly hadn’t anticipated that question, but he rallied. “At home.”

“Shouldn’t they be with you? You’re only little.” Sally hadn’t intended to get into any kind of conversation with the boy – or anyone – but now that she had started, now that he was there, she couldn’t very well slam the door in his chubby face, no matter how much she was tempted. She wasn’t that mean.

Now the boy really looked confused. His smooth brow furrowed and his bright red lips pouted. And then Sally could see the understanding drop over him, and he smiled again. “Ah, you don’t know how I am, do you?”

He was so sure of himself, so confidant. Sally had to remind herself that he was only… what? Eight? Nine? She shook her head, hating to feel even the slightest bit intimidated by a little boy.
“I live next door.” He held out his hand, ready for it to be taken and shaken. “I’m Tommy.” His hand remained there, sticking out in front of him, not wavering, not fading.

Sally had to take hold. The stubby fingers were frozen, but Tommy didn’t seem to notice. He grinned wider, happy to have made her acquaintance.

“I’m Miss Stark,” said Sally slowly. She wanted to close the door now, and she placed her hand on the edge of it, hurrying things along with her mind. Hoping this would be over soon so she could go back in. She turned just enough to catch a sight of the clock in the hallway. Almost half past twelve. Almost lunch. Almost time to find the channel showing that old film she hadn’t seen for years. Miracle on 34th Street. She was quite looking forward to it. 

“I know,” said Tommy, nodding. “We sometimes get your post. I usually just put it through your door, but this time, I thought I should speak to you.” He fumbled around in his jacket pocket, and withdrew a square envelope, a little bent, but otherwise unharmed. He thrust it at the hand that was clutching the edge of the door, and Sally instinctively let go and took the letter.

It was a card.

And the envelope was adorned with a colourful stamp, larger than the usual type, depicting a snowman and a reindeer. It was cheerful. Sally stared at it. She had thought she had been forgotten. Perhaps she had been wrong. 

©Lisamarie Lamb 2012 

Friday, 14 December 2012

A Brick and Mortar Bookshop - Nickel Books

Nickel Books is a gorgeous treasure trove of an independent children's bookshop in Sittingbourne, Kent. Located on the high street, it is easy to find and hard to forget once you've stepped inside this Aladdin's cave of interesting books, games, and toys. And if by any chance they don't have what you're looking for, Andrea, the incredibly friendly and helpful owner, will source it for you (assuming it's in print).

But it's not just a children's bookshop. Nickel Books is host to numerous events through the month, including Musical Bumps, children's parties, and story time which takes place every Tuesday at 11am. Check the shop's website for more events as they come along. There's always something going on!

Not only is Nickel Books a lovely place to visit, but if you can't make it, their online ordering service is second to none. With an easy to navigate online shop, free postage, and a personal service, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

2012 is the year of the independent trader - buy local, support local. And Nickel Books is just the sort of shop that deserves our custom.

Now, you may wonder why I'm writing about a children's bookshop as I don't write for children. Well, the Sheppey Writing Workshop's book, A Roof Over Their Heads, about the inhabitants and places on the Isle of Sheppey, is now being stocked in Nickel Books! Not only does Andrea cater to children, but she also has a local interest section, and our book fit in nicely.

Whether you want to learn about Victorian Kent, or you want to know more about good walks to take small children on, they've got the information.

And they've also now got A Roof Over Their Heads.

Please, take a look at this fabulous shop, and enjoy!

Friday, 7 December 2012

New Anthology: Legends of Urban Horror

Urban legends. You know the sort of thing. Long ago known stories of nastiness that everyone has heard but no one is quite sure where it came from. It's just there, as though already implanted into the brain at birth, ready and waiting for the opportunity to be told.

And there is always an opportunity. Always a good time to tell a tale of urban horror. It's because they are based on such normal, everyday things (a car with its headlights off, a darkened bathroom mirror, a spider laying its eggs...) that at any given moment something will spark off the memory of that story you heard once upon a time. The story that a friend of a friend told you.

Since these stories are so well known, it may seem odd to base an anthology around them. Who needs to see them written down when they are so firmly entrenched in the world's subconscious? This is where Sirens Call Publications' newest offering changes the game. Yes, the stories are urban legends, but they are different. New ideas, new reasons, new legends to scare you.

Perhaps you can tell a friend of a friend about it? See how far we can spread the stories here...

Contributing authors include:
Morgan Bauman, Kimberly A. Bettes, Matthew Borgard, Alex Chase, Austin Fikac, K. Trap Jones, Sean Keller, Lisamarie Lamb, Jon Olson, C. M. Saunders.

It can be purchased through these links: paperback or Kindle paperback or Kindle