April Showers…

SAM_3729

The last days of April for me, always herald the coming of summer…that glimpse into the near future of what you want your short-lived but longed for summer to be. All that promise, all those hazy dreams, just around the corner…

We British have such short summers, so few days of truly warm and glorious weather, that our all too brief summers take on an almost mythical significance. Even if it’s cold as ice outside, if the sun is shining, you’ll find some optimistic soul wandering around in nothing more than a thin T-shirt and shorts!

It is perhaps why we British are so obsessed with the weather over here, not just because our climate and seasons are so wildly unpredictable, but because it dominates our consciousness in a rather profound way. We invest so much time and energy into squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of a sunny spell, no matter how fleeting, that we find ourselves almost lost in perpetual gloom when the skies cloud over!

It is for this reason, that I smile at April showers, a passing incumbrance which will inevitably lead onto to the warmer airs of May and then into summer!

Ah, our beloved showers, our glistening lawns groaning to be cut once more, our jewel like flowers bursting amongst the verdant green. The daffodils have faded now, replaced by a cobalt sea of bluebells…ah yes…goodbye to April showers and hello to the gentle bee-buzzing of May and beyond! ūüėÄ xx

Stay a while longer … please

autumn tree

The ochre shades of Autumn fall

Amongst the pearly drops of dew,

The straddling wisps of cloud rush by

As wind whispers in the willows tall.

**

The last days of summer gone

The fleeting haze of warmth and shine

The flutter of the butterflies

The humming of the bees has died.

**

Chill air blows from northern skies,

An arctic blast to catch our breath,

Trees semi-clad and leafless sigh

As the hours draw ever closer in.

**

Exotic twirls of russet fungi

Flower like balletic skirts,

Amongst the brown shades and woody tumble

That smoothers all the green I knew.

**

The pheasants shriek their lonely call

The hunter’s on the prowl,

Gunshots ring out in darkening days

Oh, the cruelty of human pride.

**

I see the beauty of the gold, the amber and the crimson hue

But how my heart aches for the shimmering sizzle

Warm grass underfoot,

Lazy hazy days of Summer azure…

**

So while the harvest fruits cascade,

The hedgerows twitch alive with life,

Winter crops planted and ordered well,

Haystacks drying in the last¬†sunny rays…

**

I murmur to the heavens,

To the trees still bearing leaves,

To the dying Speckled Woods on the wing

Come stay a while longer … pleaseeee.

*

*

Sophie E Tallis © 2013

English: Speckled Wood butterfly - in the wood...

English: Speckled Wood butterfly – in the woods Nestling on moss among the pine needles, this butterfly looked to be at home in the 943212. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Dust Room

003

You never believe your life can change…until it does.

Kate Neilson’s life, not much of one by her own account, had bumped along in the same unremarkable way for the last three decades now. She had fond memories of being a kid, having adventures, being bold and exciting but all that changed when she was eight. A few weeks after her eighth birthday her mother had been killed in a car accident and her young life took an overnight¬†turn from the fantasies of being a kid into the harsh realities of life. She’d given up on being adventurous after that, she’d given up on being anything really and had perfected the art of drifting – no ambition, no goals, no hassle.

Now at the age of 38, her life had drastically changed again…

Kate sat wedged in¬†a leather chair, a blank expression on her face. She had reached brain overload about two hours before. Most of the morning had been consumed by endless papers, signing codicils, notarising¬†documents, legal jargon and the sort of beaurocratic¬†nonsense that she and Shaw hated.¬†Kate knew that¬†if his lawyer¬†hadn’t been his friend,¬†then¬†Shaw would¬†have ended up without an asset to his name. Shaw had a particular dislike, no, an outright disgust¬†regarding paperwork especially when it came to summarising a human being’s life.

“It’s paper, just f**king paper!” he’d scream, invariably louder than he had to.

Shaw¬†enjoyed making people stiffen in their chairs, is if he were about to assault them. Kate remembered an old friend of his, describing him as a ‘human tsunami’. That was it exactly. It was the most accurate description of him and uncannily prophetic. Shaw really was a human tsunami, whether he intended to be or not. He left people mangled in his wake. To be honest, in all their interviews together, the endless taped conversations and battles of wit, not really a battle, Kate had never won a point. But in all their meetings, she had never really been able to assess¬†his motives. Frustratingly, right up until the end, he had remained as big a mystery as he ever had. Perhaps that was how he wanted it. He had¬†a way of orchestrating things by invisible means, nonetheless, one always suspected Shaw of being involved.

“Right. That’s it. All signed and sealed. The realtor will sort that sign out in the morning. That was a mistake, that should never have gone up.” Shaw’s lawyer towered above her.

“Thank you, Tom.”

Tom McCrury, a great bear of a man,¬†had been Addison Shaw’s lawyer for fifty-one years. He probably knew¬†him better than anyone, but he was keeping tight-lipped¬†about it. What an odd friendship it seemed. This softly spoken monolith of a man and Addison Shaw, loud mouthed, foul-mouthed¬†and with no patience for the pleasantries of life.¬†To Kate, Shaw¬†had always seemed a chewed up gristly character, gristly yes, as if there was no bone or muscle and certainly no fat, just gristle…gnarled on the inside.

“Well,”¬†McCrury¬†drew in a long breath. “Things happen for a reason, right?” He patted Kate on the back. “Place is all yours now, kiddo,¬†enjoy it!”

Tom was in a hurry to leave. He wrestled with the enormous cluster of keys for a moment then dropped then squarely in her hands. He strode out to his car got in and hesitated for a moment.

“Don’t forget, I’m your¬†lawyer now. Call me if you need anything, my¬†number’s on speed dial…lucky number seven!” he smiled, then slamming the door shut with a cursory wave, he was gone. By the rattle of his exhaust,¬†Kate¬†wondered¬†if¬†his old friend had been as generous with him. If anyone deserved to inherit, surely it had to be Tom McCrury not her?!

Kate stood on the steps for a while looking at the jumble of keys, so interconnected she’d never be able to separate¬†them. The place was vast. There had to be¬†a hundred rooms at least. Why on earth had Addison Shaw, reclusive heir to a fortune of¬†billions – no single person seemed to know the full extent of his assets, why…why had he left this to her?!

She couldn’t call it a house, a mansion, or even a palace, it was just an enormous pile of rooms and turrets and grandiose staircases¬†with nothing but the mice to waft up and down. What the hell was she going to do with it? It had to be worth… what was it Tom said?

“Oh, I don’t know, somewhere between fifteen and thirty million.¬†Shaw refused to ever let realtors in…you know Addison.”

No, no she didn’t that was the point. She had worked at a crummy local newspaper writing minor stories and organising the ad section. A job she hated and which routinely underappreciated and underpaid her, but the plain truth was, she was a coward and couldn’t risk leaving it. Then a year ago, out of the blue, her editor had called her into his office. She’d only spoken to the guy maybe twice in five years. Anyone watching him bluster around the offices would have thought he was some hot-shot newspaper kingpin, not the king of a small town rag with an embarrassingly low readership.

Anyway, he’d lowered himself to call her insignificance in for a ‘chat’.

“I got a call this morning,” he paused. He liked pausing for dramatic effect. It just¬†made he¬†seem even more like¬†the jumped up little weasel she thought he was. “A call…from Addison Shaw.”

She had no idea who he was, but she had no intention of letting him know that. One thing Kate was great at, was faking.

“Yes?”

“Addison Shaw? The multi-billionaire? He owns the Shoreside estate?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Well…he wants a reporter and he has personally asked for you.”

Now she was shocked. Nobody personally asked for her, ever. The last time that happened it was over a speeding ticket.

“Me?”

“You know this guy?”

“No…no, not at all.”

Her boss eyed her suspiciously. “Really…well, he seems to know you. Wants you to go out there this afternoon.”

“What?”

“Take your camera. There are no recent pictures of this guy without those damn shades on.”

This afternoon?”

“Yeap.”

“But…but I’ve got the ads to finish.”

“Gary will have to do those. He wants you there at 2.”

“Did he say what it was about?”

“Jesus, Neilson! A story! I don’t think he’s looking for a girlfriend!”

Sarcastic little shit. That meant he’d asked and been told to f**k off. Good.

Kate left the office, for what ended up as the last time. That surreal afternoon she had meet with the mysterious Mr. Shaw and been offered a job as his biographer, a job which easily paid five times the amount she got at the Gazette. Her normal cautiousness had kicked in for about twenty seconds, until she been given a cheque for twenty thousand dollars as an advance. On her return journey home, she had stopped at the local deli, just to phone her editor and tell him to stick his job. Considering that Kate rarely swore, her exact words drew stares from the prissy woman behind the deli counter!

That was a year ago, almost to the day.

Kate¬†stood on the steps and looked up at the colossus of a building behind her. How was she going to live here? The papers she had¬†to sign that morning, stipulated she could not sale, rent or let the property nor could she run any business from it¬†for a period of no less than ten years. After this ten-year enforced habitation, she would have to apply to be released from the clauses and various legal entanglements and could then eventually sell up and reap the rewards…if she refused her grand prize then this impossibly grand house would be torn down with immediate effect. She simply couldn’t abide that, to rip apart something like this for no reason, was crazy!

Yes…it would be criminal…at least after ten years she could sell up, maybe give some money to charity or something or set up a foundation for kids, something.

“Ten years, eh?” she felt the weight of it already.

The money¬†Addison Shaw had left her, too mind-boggling¬†to contemplate, was neatly¬†ascribed¬†to various maintenance¬†areas, the roof, gardens and grounds, stonework, plaster work, upkeep of conservation work etc, then the rest into a ‘living account’, expenses,¬†that kind of thing.

Kate slumped down on the top step. This was all too much.¬†A week ago she still had a relatively normal life, well, sort of. She’d spend most of her days running errands for Mr. Shaw, interviewing him or doing research.¬†Kate really had no idea how to write a biography, but her lack of credentials didn’t seem to bother her new boss.

Despite the better income, she was still living in her one bedroomed apartment trying to work out if she could afford to move to¬†a bigger place. She had used up the advance pretty quickly, paying off debts, and though Shaw gave her the healthiest salary she could have¬†dreamt of, she had been sensible and had squirreled it away into savings and a pension plan. She was rather proud of herself for doing that. Most 38 year olds would have blown it on an expensive¬†house and car…but then again, most 38 year olds were married with kids.¬†Kate didn’t fit the usual mould.

Yes…a¬†week ago¬†Kate was busy with an assignment Shaw had given her and was running late as usual when Mrs Forrenti¬†had cornered her as she fumbled with her front door keys.

The old lady who lived next door to her and knew the movements of everyone in the block, was waving a crumpled envelope in her hand.

Kate smiled. “Good morning Mrs Forrenti. I’m in a bit of a rush this morning.”

“Did you see what she did with that dog?” The old woman was waving manically¬†at her octogenarian¬†nemesis across the balcony.

“Uh huh…I’m sure that’s right…”

“What? Are you listening to me dear?”

Kate stared at her. Why couldn’t she politely tell her to¬†sod¬†off and leave her alone? What did she think? That just because she was single¬†she’d want to be best buddies with an eighty-three¬†year old pain in the ass, who stank of garlic and lavender to hide the stench of smoke and rotten teeth? Ughh! Even now, Kate couldn’t pass a perfume counter if it had any lavender scents without wanting to throw up.

“I’m sorry Mrs Forrenti, I really can’t talk…I’m late I’ve got to go…”

“Oh my dear, you’re always late aren’t you?” she smiled. Kate got another waft of smoke-laden garlic.

“I’ll speak to you later, okay?” She turned and rushed away.

“Wait! Wait!”¬†the old woman¬†grabbed her arm. Why couldn’t she just leave her alone? “This is yours. That damn post boy keeps giving me your mail!” She gave her the brown envelope.

Kate stuffed it into her bag and quickly left. Shaw had asked her, on their last round of interviews to do some research for him and the woman at¬†the records office could only see her at 9 sharp. Kate reached there with a minute to spare. She¬†spent the rest of the day scrolling through dated microfilm and newspaper articles. It wasn’t until three,¬†when she had left the records office to grab a sandwich,¬†that she¬†had remembered the envelope. It was a note in Addison Shaw’s scrawling hand. It said simply.

I am yours.

With it was a business card from Tom McCrury. On the back Tom had written – Call me today, urgent!

So she did.

That was how Kate had found out that her boss of the last year, the mysterious, reclusive billionaire, Addison Michael Shaw, had died.

At 11:30 the previous night, he had driven his Bugatti Veyron into the sea and strapped himself in the seat.

That was eight days ago.

The funeral¬†was¬†yesterday. Today, Kate Neilson was a billionairess…

Sophie E Tallis © 2013

Castle of Dreams – Week Ten

I was very honoured to be featured in fellow fantasy author, Andrea Baker’s, wonderful blog series ‘Castle of Dreams’, for Week Nine and now Week Ten of the series. Check it out guys! ūüėÄ

Andrea Baker Author

Good evening, and welcome back to the Castle of Dreams blog series, I hope the change in weather has inspired your own dreams!

This week sees the return of the wonderful¬†Sophie E Tallis, author and illustrator of The Darkling Chronicles. Sophie is one of my favourite debut authors, and another fellow member of the wonderful Alliance of Worldbuilders¬†‚Äď regular readers of this blog will recall her submission last week, which was a factual piece about her own Castles of Dreams

This week however I am delighted to be able to give you a preview of Book One of the Darkling Chronicles, White Mountain.

Chapter Fifteen: The Silent Watch     (Author’s Original Text)

 Wendya had had another restless night and woke early. Her room was cold. The city lay silent and pensive. She peeled back the bed sheets and wrapping herself in a beautifully embroidered quilt, she stepped over to the…

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The Silver Chalice

A slip of silver,

A glint of light,

Dancing under ferns and shadows,

Flowing water bright.

I hear its murmur,

A passing whisper of times gone by,

Halcyon days of sunshine and meadow dew,

Music amongst the grasses high.

Nevermore will the magic fall

In darkling woods and hidden dells

As steel and concrete cover all,

Only my longing heart will tell…

…the wonders that were lost.

© Sophie E Tallis   2012

New Zealand Odyssey Part VIII – Capital Blues and the Gateway to the South.

With a heavy heart, I dragged myself away from magical Lake Taupo and the wonders of the Tongariro National Park.

Leaving my rental car and the majesty of New Zealand’s active volcanoes behind, I grabbed a cheap bus ride and headed south towards the country’s capital, Wellington, the southernmost capital in the world!

Known as ‘Windy Wellington’, it certainly¬†lived up to its name! Situated in the latitudes of the ‘Roaring Forties’ and perched on¬†a range of steep-sided¬†hills that¬†run down to¬†the harbour and the sea beyond, Wellington is also particularly exposed to the coastal gusts that blow through the Cook Strait.¬†The city also¬†lies on an active geological fault line and has a high degree of seismic activity as a result, with several small earthquakes occurring every year, and was the sight of New Zealand’s most powerful recently recorded earthquake, in 1855, reaching a massive 8.2 magnitude.

Arriving, somewhat weighed down by my now massively heavy backpack, I got a room in a small B&B then set out to explore the wonders of Wellington.

I wandered amongst the harbour and quayside, a picture of city tranquility and civic pride. None of the dirt, litter and graffiti so prevalent in our own capital. Public sculptures and fountains jostled amongst neatly clipped lawns and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. Only the unpredictability of the sea reminded you of the wildness beyond the city fringes.

I took¬†the cable car and drank in the breathtaking views over the city as I passed Kelburn¬†cricket grounds and headed up the hillside to the botanical gardens above and the Carter Observatory and Planetarium.¬†Seeing the stars of the Southern Cross for the first time and a different night sky to one you’ve always known, is strange and thrilling.

The next few days whirled¬†by in haze of sightseeing, but there was always something dogging my tracks, like a whisper on the wind, a feeling of melancholia that I couldn’t shake…

Rarely in life do we realise that we are having the time of our lives while we are actually having them! Yet I was all too aware, as I reached the mid-point of my four-month odyssey, that I had never felt happier, freer and more contented, and that the experiences and memories I was making, would stay with me for a life-time and shape my life in ways I could never have predicted.

Booking my ferry¬†ticket,¬†I posted home some of the encumbering¬†weight of my backpack, before bordering the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry and saying farewell to New Zealand’s North Island!

93km and 3 hours later, for what has been deservedly described as ‘one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world’, I saw the stunning inlets and channels of the South Island’s Marlborough Sounds. A 4000km2¬†maze of coastal ‘sea-drowned valleys’, of heavily wooded hills and sparsely populated quiet bays at the far north of the South Island,¬†which evoke the best of ancient Scandinavian legends. A heady mixture of mystery, Maori mythology, spectacular landscapes and sweet solitude. Nature at her best!

I arrived at¬†the sheltered harbour of Picton, gateway to the South Island. Grabbing another cheap bus, I headed west through the glorious rolling¬†hills and vineyards of Marlborough’s famous wine region¬†to¬†the bohemian¬†city of Nelson, the geographical centre of New¬†Zealand. A small but wonderfully artsy feeling place, full of galleries, indie record shops and festivals, Nelson became my base for the next week.

Bathed in the highest amount of sunshine per year, making it the ‘Sunshine Capital’ of New Zealand, you can understand why it’s cerulean skies and dry heat are so perfect for making fine wines. And so, despite sadly not being a lover of wines myself (my immature¬†palate makes them taste as disgustingly sour, as when I tried sipping them at age 13), I¬†found myself getting lost down empty¬†country tracks,¬†picking grapes and macadamia nuts from the roadside! Bliss.

After happy days soaking up the sunshine and culture of friendly Nelson, I took my rental car and headed west, as I found myself aching once more for wild places. Branching off from the State Highway,¬†I took¬†the picturesque coastal road¬†past Motueka¬†and onto the pretty little town of Kaiteriteri with its sandy beaches and cafes…But still the wild beckoned me.

Following a twisting road, which can only be described as a single gravel track hardly wide enough for a car, with sheer drops inches from my wheels, I gingerly skirted the forested hills and cliffs towards my destination, Marahau, hoping against hope not to met a car coming in the opposite direction!

Crossing the Otuwhero¬†Inlet, I was¬†immediately amazed by the startling¬†azure of the Tasman Bay and the Pacific beyond and the almost ethereal white of the beaches. Sheer paradise. Marahau, a tiny inaccessible village, gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and outpost for laid back beach bums, surfers, hikers, adventurers and those wishing to get lost, had the most magical feel to it. Artisan and bohemian in the extreme, with only one way in or out, its solitary grocery shop, cafe, post box and the few dotted roads, houses, caravans, water taxis¬†and kayaks, invited you to stay a while…and so I did.

THIS¬†was a place to live and breathe and write! Hemingway, Greene, Kerouac…if they knew this place existed, they would have packed their cigars, white shirts and shades and headed here on the first plane. Du Maurier too…but maybe without the cigars!

I splashed out, booking myself into the rather posh, Ocean View Chalets, self-contained wooden chalets perched on stilts and overlooking the sea. The view from my balcony was nothing short of spectacular. This¬†was the stuff of dreams. If you couldn’t be inspired here, then you couldn’t be inspired anywhere.

Wishing every minute would stretch itself and every hour would become a day, I spent the next three glorious weeks in a heightened state of happy delirium. No drugs needed, just utterly intoxicated on life.

Taking the Abel Tasman walkway and coastal track deep into the rainforest, I was astonished to see a passing group of little wild blue penguins casually crossing the path in front of me, as a cacophony of exotic birds cooed in the canopy above.

Abandoning shoes, I spent most of my days walking barefoot, hanging out on the beach as if it were a religion, beach combing, sketching and horse riding¬†along the surf…yes, as clich√©d¬†as it is, there is nothing like it! Writing for hours and hours as the sun hovered overhead, a guiding light for my imagination. Watching the sunset blaze into the ocean, or the drifting embers of a bonfire on the beach, sharing gentle conversation with strangers, all as blissfully happy as me.

Days were meant to be like this…

Distillations on Silence

Throbbing of swollen ears,

Glass coated larynx.

The mirror only tells one truth,

The hollow space in front,

Not the deadness inside.

Whiskey breath,

Clots of blood beneath your eye lids.

That last shot of poison did the trick.

Innocuous sounds from the television drift into the room.

Life continues outside,

Oblivious,

Unchanging,

Uncaring.

The central heating clicks off

And so do you

…down to the very last drop.

Sophie E Tallis © 1996

The Wishing Tree

The Wishing Tree

Evan sat on the branch, swinging her legs as she had done a thousand times before, as she had done since she was a child. The Wishing Tree continued to whisper to her, soothing, caressing, each tender shoot and leaf urging her onwards. The pounding rain lost its power here. Nothing ugly could touch her in this magical place. Shards of moonlight poked intrusively from between the swaying canopy. She sighed. She could lose herself here, utterly. If happiness was a place, something tangible you could grasp or just be in, this was it.

She was vaguely aware of the acidic glow of the streetlights from the top of Hillrise¬†and the distant hum of cars on the motorway. For so many people, this small neglected wood was no more than a dumping ground. Fly-tipping¬†mounds, the clich√© of broken shopping trolleys, used condoms, porno mags, beer cans and dog shit littered its dells and grassy knolls…but it was still beautiful.

From an early age Evan had been drawn to the Wishing Tree, though she never knew why. Only she was able to climb its awkward gnarled branches. Only she had ever been brave enough to reach its fingers stretching ever skyward, then dangle like a deranged monkey while her friends screamed and cackled below. She had been invincible. But age tears down such possibilities, age tells you to tread carefully…age puts the fear in you.

Evan watched the breeze catch the leaves around her, as they danced in the broken starlight. She closed her eyes and raised her arms in the air. She thought of the huge condors of South America, gliding on the thermals with their monstrous wings. The feel of the warm air under them, forcing them up. Only her balance could stop her from falling now. She looked into the gloom beneath her feet. At this height and with the rusty railings below, she knew if she fell she would kill herself.

The tree continued to whisper. She felt the soft wind pushing against her and the dappled light shifting over her eyelids. She had the overwhelming desire to let go.

That afternoon had passed in a haze. As always, Evan had trudged up the street to the bend in the road where she could see her house, sitting proudly at the end, and could see which cars were parked in front of it. An old rambling cottage, it sat on the corner of Wolfridge¬†Street and the lane that led up to The Square. Its overgrown brambled garden, lined with old trees, stretched down the road toward her. She looked at the cars outside. Her father was still in and her mum hadn’t come back from work yet.

Evan stood for a moment, deciding what to do.

School had finished at 3:30, it was now 5:39. She couldn’t spend any more time wandering about, in case her mum phoned. She walked briskly, passing the overhanging holly and the three cars which had been left rotting in the garden for as long as she could remember. The radio was blaring in the kitchen as normal. She lifted the latch of the gate, hoping to avoid the usual squeak, but left it ajar in case she had to run. She stopped by the back door. Silence. She couldn’t hear him, no fridge door clattering open and shut, no screeching of chair legs on the quarry tiled floor. Evan turned her key in the lock, she’d perfected how to do this with no sound at all. She stood in the small lobby listening through the stable doors.

It was deathly quiet.

She closed the back door behind her. She’d chance it. With any luck he’d be kipped out on the couch in the living room glued to whatever sport was on, or he’d be upstairs sleeping it off and snoring.

The kitchen was empty. The dog didn’t greet her. He must be in the living room with it. She instinctively looked in the bin to count how many empty cans there were. Ten or twelve by her count.

Suddenly she heard a noise. Shit he’s awake, he’s coming! Evan grabbed her bag and as quickly and silently as she could, crept up the old cobbler stairs and along to her bedroom. If she was quiet enough he wouldn’t realise that she’d come home yet and he might piss on off to work or whatever.

She closed her bedroom door and sat on the edge of the bed, listening, perfectly still. The fridge door went again. The radio was highered. She could hear the muffled voice of her father probably speaking to Fluff their dog, or someone on the phone. Yes, now the back door was opening and he was calling Fluff to go out to toilet before he left. She waited. Eventually the dog came in. She waited for the shuffling he always did, trying to eventually sort himself out for work. She knew she was safe as long as he didn’t come upstairs. If he came upstairs he’d walk along to her room to check if she was in. He was in a hurry today. The back door slammed. Evan relaxed. She was safe. She waited for the gate to go then the predicted heavy footsteps back up to the door because he’d forgotten something. The keys in the door again, scraping chairs in the kitchen, heavy footsteps up the other stairs and the thud of him in her parents‚Äô bedroom. Shit, please go down, don’t come along! Good, good‚Ķthe steps were going down again.

“Evan? Evan? Are you in?” came the voice suddenly, calling up the old stairs.

She kept silent. Shit, shit! He was coming up. Panicked, she looked for somewhere to hide. Suddenly the stable door clattered shut and the back door slammed again. Keys locking it now then the gate, then his car. Wait, wait for the car to start and watch it leave. Wait…wait.

The street lights glowed red as Evan peered out of her window, keeping herself low, and watched as her father drove off.

Great! Relax. He’s gone.

She closed her eyes, the Wishing Tree was talking to her again, soothing and calming her. The Wishing Tree was always there for her, whispering the answers to her English test, telling her what to say to the bullies at school, warning her of danger. Oh, how she loved it…

She had relied on it more and more over the past few months, as the world around her seemed to slip away. Only she knew the secrets of the Wishing Tree, only she had been lucky enough, special enough, to be chosen. Every wish she had wished, had come true, every one! She only had one more wish to ask…

The evening came and the lights of the village glittered in the cold night. Mum’s voice echoed over the answer machine. Staying overnight for a 2-day conference, Evan had forgotten.

“‚ĶWe’re going to go down for dinner in a minute.”

“Oh right. How’s the room?”

“You know, basic, it’s alright. Is Dad there?”

“Uh‚Ķno…He’s popped out to Tesco’s¬†to get some more milk,” Evan lied. “D’you want me to get him to phone when he’s back?”

“No, don’t worry, we’ll probably be at dinner then. You’ve seen the dinner in the fridge?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“And there’s salad to go with it if you want.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you alright? You’re quiet tonight.”

“Yeah I’m fine.”

“How was school?”

“It was fine, Mum…honestly, everything’s fine.”

The phone went dead for a moment.

“Okay, well, I’ll be back tomorrow, it’ll probably be around 6 or 7 though. I’ll phone you if it’s later.”

“Okay, have a nice dinner.”

“I love you sweetheart.”

“I love you too, I’ll tell Dad you phoned…Have a good day tomorrow…I love you Mum.”

“I love you too, god bless, sweet dreams darling.”

“Love you…bye Mum…”

“Sweet dreams.” The phoned clicked off.

“I love you,” whispered Evan.

She held the receiver in her hand and pressed it against her forehead.

She could hear the tick of the grandfather clock in the kitchen and the hum of the fridge. She went downstairs and switched off the noise of the radio. She loved listening to the sounds of the house, the familiar creaks and groans she’d grown up with, in a home that she had loved and feared in equal amounts.

She glided the bolts of the back door across and turned the key. Double locked. Safe. He would have to use the conservatory now. This old house held so many memories, so many secrets, such magical joy and nostalgic happiness and such terror. Evan stood, her back pressed against the stable doors, taking in the view. The cracked quarry tiles, the pine cupboards that never quite fitted together. The solemn stretch of the Victorian sideboard, its dark smooth wood and the brass handles of its heavy drawers.

In summers past, her mother would stand by the window watching her children play in the garden, chasing each other between runner bean canes and past tended borders full of pansies, sweet peas and love-in-the-mist. She remembered the constant wail of the radio and the shrill beating of the electric mixer. Her mum was always baking. The oven was always on. The wire racks loaded with hot jam tarts or cooling sponges, dishes half full with icing or buttercream, flour on counter tops, broken egg shells next to the sink…and always water splashed on the floor.

“Mother’s been in the kitchen!” They’d joke.

Evan touched the mixer, wiping her finger across the rim of the bowl, feeling a thin layer of dust under her skin.

Things change.

She didn’t understand why, but she knew they did.

Evan switched off the light and left the kitchen in darkness. It was raining. She could hear it clearly now, pounding on the roof of the conservatory. Even in light rain, the sound was so loud the cat would be too frightened to go in. Now, it was thumping down, hitting the PVC like so many fists. Evan found rain to be cleansing, a way of freeing oneself from worries. But rain like this, the sheer violence of it half frightened and half excited her. Standing in the midst of such an onslaught had a way of forcibly emptying any thoughts, filling the head and body with only the pounding noise.

She smiled.

She was glad it was raining. Like tears she thought…tears for me? She walked into the living room, the womb of the house. This, the smallest of rooms and the oldest in the cottage, with its low uneven ceiling and castle-width walls, was dominated by a fireplace far too large for the room, but somehow it worked. The leather sofa, now over 30 years old, bore more creases and lines, but had the warm steady comfort of something lived in, something that had seen and witnessed the best and worst of life and had still survived.

The Wishing Tree whispered again.

‚ÄúYes, I know. A fire, that‚Äôs what we need.‚ÄĚ

A fire had already been laid in the hearth. Evan lit the paper sticks watching carefully as the embers spread until she was sure the fire was lit and well on its way. She didn’t know why, but wanted the house to be warm. With any luck, when father returned, at 2 or 3 in the morning, pissed as a newt, he would come in here and just pass out on the couch. She knew he wouldn’t check upstairs, so she had plenty of time now.

The smoke curled its way up the black chimney as flickers of flame caught light. The fire was blazing. Evan sat for a moment in its warm glow. The rain had stopped.

She glanced out of the window, it was still light, only just though.

The Wishing Tree was waiting…and the promise of yet more adventures. She wanted to reach it before dark. She quickly kissed the cat and dog then opened the conservatory door. She could smell the chimney smoke mixed with the fresh smell of rain. She closed and locked the door behind her. The house was warm and safe.

The sky was black now and amidst the rustling tree branches she could hear rain coming once more, perfect…Magic Time!

Climbing higher in the tree, Evan smiled, swinging her legs again. She had never felt so happy, so light. The Wishing Tree was calling her, calling her to its branches, to its loving embrace. She placed the heavy rope around her neck. 

It was time to go.

Sophie E Tallis © 2012