A Limerick, by Jane Jago

Who let that man have a phone?

He’s on it like Fido with a bone

He thinks it is neat

Bad crap to retweet

Can we not have him put in a home

Working Title Blogspot. Two women and some books. Hope you will check back daily for your ‘coffee break’ read, and please do let us know what you think.

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A Verse, by Jane Jago

It is sad when the whole of a nation

Is in need of one man’s resignation

It is not a fine hour

When a man’s lust for power

Leads to violence by procrastination

© jane jago 2017

 

To see the complete list of Jane Jago’s books go to:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Jago/e/B01CYLND2O/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
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Guns – A Poem By Jane Jago

Guns don’t kill people, he said

With a wag of his hoary old head

Can’t we make him confess

That the deaths would be less

If he had knitting needles instead

© jane jago 2017

To see the complete list of Jane Jago’s books go to:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Jago/e/B01CYLND2O/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
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A Monday Poem

I must tell you there is no surprise

When big men touch other folks’ thighs

If parliament is shocked

We should just say: oh f**k

It’s been happening under your eyes

© jane jago 2017

 

To see the complete list of Jane Jago’s books go to:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Jago/e/B01CYLND2O/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
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A Nonsense Poem

Tweedleeast and Tweedlewest

resolved to go to war

For Tweedlewest said Tweedleeast

had really gone too far

And as they spoke, the silverbacks

hid ‘neath the bed and shook

For Tweedleast said Tweedlewest

would soon be brought to book

Tweedlewest and Tweedleeast

did huff and puff and shout

And women in suburbia

cried “who will help us out”

The Slavic eagle heard their cries

his wingspan blocked the light

Which frightened both our heroes so

they clean forgot to fight

© jane jago 2017

 

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Beyond the Horizon

A piece of flash fiction by C H Clepitt

Walker checked his watch.  It was new.  A company just on the edge of Smoke, called Claymore and Tims, (which always made him think of a weedy little man trying to wield a huge sword), had just started developing this ‘wrist watches’.  They were smaller than pocket watches, and he always worried that he would push the tiny winder too far and break the spring. As such, he leaned towards underwinding, and his watch subsequently lost time.  Now, he was wondering just how late Judge Thompson was.  He kissed his teeth and leaned back in his chair.

“The judge will be with you shortly,” Jenkins, the judge’s clerk poked his tiny spherical head out from the office.  His thick spectacles engulfed his face, the lenses reflecting the room and giving the youth an almost mechanical look.

Walker held his watch to his ear to check that it was still ticking.

“Oh! You’ve one of the new wrist ones! How do you find it?” Jenkins asked eagerly.

“Small,” Walker said frankly. “And damned if I don’t always check my pocket first, every time!”

“Jenkins!” The voice of the judge boomed from the office behind them. “Stop your chit chat and send Walker in! You’re worse than my wife for gossip, boy!”

Jenkins’ cheeks flushed and he opened the door fully. “The judge will see you now, Sir.”

Walker nodded, rose gathering his papers and headed in.

“That will be all, Jenkins,” Judge Thompson dismissed the terrified youth. “So, Walker, how is it you always end up with the no win cases, eh? Damned bad luck, or are you cursed?” He laughed, leaned back in his chair and opened the walnut box on his desk, producing a thick cigar.  As he lit it and inhaled; a heady scent of cigar smoke filled the room.  Taking his queue from the judge, Walker took his cigarette case from his pocket and lit one.  He took a seat without waiting to be offered and looked at the judge for a moment, studying his countenance, his self satisfied grin that was permanently emblazoned on his face. The look of a man who knew he’d been born to privilege, and was going to exploit it.

“I volunteered,” Walker said calmly, blowing smoke across the office.

“Why the hell did you do that, man?” Thompson asked incredulously. “That woman is going straight to the noose! Amazed she escaped it before, killed her husband, apparently.”

“Because everyone deserves representation,” Walker maintained a calm exterior, but the grip on his cigarette tightened. “And I have a witness that says he was in there mutilating girls. It could have been self defense.”

“Witness! What witness?” Judge Thompson sneered. “Some whore? Who will believe her? Sir Thomas was a member of my golf club, for gods’ sake!”

“Then, are you sure you are the correct person to be trying the case, Judge?” Walker asked carefully.

“Don’t give me that bull, man!” Thompson snapped, waving his cigar ash over the desk in a flurry. “I can try a case based on the facts, it’s just that the facts scream guilty.”

Walker gritted his teeth and studied the judge.

“Anyway,” he continued. “Doesn’t exactly scream innocent to run away, does it?”

“Run away?” Walker repeated.

“Yes!” Thompson laughed. “That’s why I called you here, sorry, chap! Yes, your client has fled, with some boy. Last seen lurking at the train station. If she doesn’t report for court tomorrow, I’ll have no choice but to pass an automatic guilty verdict.”

“No choice?” Walker repeated. “Of course, that would wrap things up quickly.”

“No odds to me, man,” Thompson snorted. “Just thought I’d give you a chance to bring her in peacefully.”

“Right, yes, thank you.” Walker stood up. The long strip of ash that had been burning down his cigarette dropped onto his shoe. He shook it under the desk and left the butt in the judge’s ashtray. “I’ll see what I can do.” He left the office.

He knew this woman stood no chance in Judge Thompson’s court. He had already decided on her guilt.  The victim was most likely the slasher that the police had been half heartedly hunting for the last two years, but he was a member of the right golf club, so who cares? Walker strode towards the station. He knew the judge would have a man on him, and if he didn’t at least try to be seen to be seeking out his client, there would be consequences. Professional. He was already unpopular due to the anti-establishment cases he took pro-bono. The system was broken, and this was the only way he knew to fix it.  

It was dusk now, and as he left the dimly lit streets of Smoke for the station he lit another cigarette. The smoke was barely visible in the dusk, but the orange tip glowed brightly. Smoking calmed his nerves.  The station was deserted.

“Right, that’ll do, mate,” he turned to the judge’s man, who had been rather conspicuously tailing him. “Either walk next to me and have a chat, or go home, the creeping about in shadows is… well…”

The man was holding a walking cane, with a silver horse’s head as a handle. He raised it. “The judge wants you to let this one go,” he said as he brought it down hard.

Walker raised his arm to block the blow, and swore and the cane struck it.  The man swung again, but Walker rushed him, tackling him to the floor. The cane struck the ground as the two men tussled. Walker struck several blows, he had boxed at university, and although he was out of shape, he still knew how to land a punch. As they scrambled to their feet, Walker was on his toes, fists raised.

“Come on then, mate, let’s see how brave you are without your cane!”

“I’ll have you for assault!” The man responded. “They have just been waiting for an excuse to put you down.”

“Better make it worth it, then!” Walker responded with a series of blows to the face and torso.  The man reeled and turned, stumbling across the tracks to the other side, Walker in hot pursuit. He scrambled towards the scrubland on the other side and suddenly disappeared. “What the…” Walker looked around. There was nothing. He frowned. His face felt sore and a bruise on his cheek was starting to rise. Taking his cigarette case from his pocket he placed another between his lips and struck a match. The light of the flame revealed something shimmering in the dusk. He moved the match over it, studying the iridescent colours. He dropped it with a curse as it burnt down to his fingertips, only to see it disappear inside the portal. He struck a second match and picked up a rock, watching it disappear within the shiny prism of light.

“Well, I’ll be…” he said to himself, finally lighting his cigarette and rising from his crouching position. “The won’t find you there, will they?” he smiled to himself and patted his pocket before remembering and checking his wrist. The face of his watch was cracked. Time had stopped. Beyond the horizon he could see the streetlights of Smoke glowing. It was his city, and it was broken, but it could be fixed.  He walked slowly across the railway tracks and picked up the fallen cane. Like a javelin thrower he launched it at the area of the scrub where its owner had disappeared. It too vanished. Taking his cigarette from his mouth, he tapped the ash onto the ground. That was an interesting evening.

Find more stories by C H Clepitt here.

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Darkly Drinking (With a Badger)

One of the best things about being a nowned author (that’s what you have to bechloe hammond, darkly dreaming before you’re renowned, right?) is that you get to play with other authors you like and admire.  As you probably already know from my review of Darkly Dreaming, I think Chloe Hammond is a brilliant writer, so I was chuffed to bits when she agreed to help out with the launch of Everything Is Better With a Cape, and even more so when she agreed we could write some live cross over fiction for the party! It was great fun, and I have tidied it up below.  With cameos from E.M. Swift-Hook and L.N. Denison, this was really good fun to write, and hopefully you’ll have fun reading it!

Our scene opens in a very traditional British pub, right on the edge of the area where the recent apocalypse trial was held. In the furthest, darkest corner are two vampires.
They don’t look like vampires though, or at least not how we have been led to believe vampires look by myth and legend. Instead, they look like oversized, very beautiful marble statues, that someone has scribbled on with magic marker. No-one pays them any attention. It’s that sort of pub. They are leaning together across their table, unsipped vodka and cokes clutched in their long taloned grip. They are whispering…

‘I still don’t see how this will work?’ Layla muttered, scanning the crowd in the pub.
‘This girl, Kerry,’ Rae sighed, tired of explaining. ‘Survived and exposed the apocalypse with her friends, we saw it in the paper. With everything in the news at the moment about nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, and reanimating the dead, I think we can pretty safely say we are going to have an apocalypse of one description or another pretty soon. Yes?’ She leaned back, raised her drink to her lips and then placed it down again without actually drinking.
‘Well, yes,’ Layla spoke uncertainly. ‘But, why would that worry you? We don’t need a human to show us how to survive, none of these things will affect a vampire.’
‘Only their food source?’ Rae rolled her eyes.
‘We don’t eat human.’ Layla spoke firmly.
‘Not usually, no, but Georgette needs human to Heal doesn’t she? And vampires get pretty cantankerous if they get no human at all don’t they? So what do you think is going to happen to the occasional human who manages to survive the end of days?’
‘Ah, yes.’ Realisation slowly dawned on Layla.  ‘They’ll get guzzled. So what are you planning to do? Turn Kerry?’
‘That would rather defeat the object.’ Rae frowned. ‘I’m going to persuade her to help us gather up her friends, and then we’ll take them somewhere very remote and safe, with some breeding pairs of animals and we’ll all be safe for the future.’
Layla looked as aghast as a scribbled on statue can look. ‘A farm? You’re going to farm them?’
‘No!’ Rae sounded appalled at the idea, before lowering her tone. ‘Well, not as such. Now shush, they’ve just walked in. Look human.’
‘I‘ve got my disguise on haven’t I?’ Layla defensively pointed to the black felt tip round her eyes and mouth. ‘I look like a proper Goth.’ When Rae didn’t respond she added, ‘are you ignoring me?’
‘Oh for feck’s sake.’ Rae snapped. ‘I’m Compelling them. It’s difficult trying to affect only them, don’t want all the other riffraff descending on us. We want quality stock for this breeding programme.’

An attractive blonde woman walked in, flanked by a badger. A few drinkers glanced at the animal and blinked, but most just assumed it was a strange looking dog and carried on.
‘Why do we have to sit outside?’ the badger grumbled. ‘It’s cold and dark!’
‘Because,’ the woman muttered through gritted teeth. ‘They won’t let a badger in the pub.’ She looked like a poor attempt at a ventriloquist.
‘How do you know?’ the badger persisted. ‘There isn’t a sign!’
‘Because I just know, OK?’ she continued to clench her jaw as she spoke.
‘Why are you talking like that?’ the creature sniffed her leg. ‘You look ridiculous!’
‘I’d look more ridiculous talking to a badger!’ she shouted, before looking embarrassed and sitting down.
‘Hiiiiii Kerry,’ Rae gushed. ‘So lovely to meet you at last. I’ve read so much about you’
‘Lick arse,’ Layla muttered
 In a voice lower than humans can here Rae whispered, ‘do you want to eat in the future?’
 The woman was far to preoccupied with disguising her embarrassment over her outburst at the badger to notice anyone was talking to her.
‘She seems to be ignoring you,’ Layla observed drily.
 ‘I think I over did the compelling.’ Rae said defensively. ‘Go and get her a drink.’
 ‘Oh, it’s OK,’ Rae sounded relived. ‘She’s just chatting to the badger. She’s fine.’
A handsome, toned man in skinny jeans, shiny shoes and a fitted shirt walked confidently into the bar and kissed Kerry on the cheek. ‘Hey, babe.’ he greeted her. ‘What’s up?’
Gazing in distraction at the vampires Kerry managed to say, ‘Hi Tyrone.’
‘Whatcha looking at?’ he followed her gaze
‘Those women,’ she continued to stare at them.  ‘They’re… fascinating…’
‘Go and say ‘ello!’ he sounded enthusiastic. ‘They gotta be better for you than wasserface. She ain’t even turned up, AGAIN!”I can’t do that, Tyrone!’ she looked mortified.’
‘Who’s that?’ Layla demanded.
‘Oh excellent, breeding pair!’ Rae grinned.
‘We’re taking both?’ Layla sounded confused but quickly jumped on board with her friend’s plan. ‘Shall we nab them now?’
‘No, Layla,’ Rae began.
‘Me?’ a random drinker looked across at them. ‘Kidding,’ she added sheepishly when they both looked at her. ‘I know you don’t mean me.’
‘Goddammit Layla, that woman’s got the same name as you! She thinks I’m talking to her. Argh. I think the compelling might have affected her’ Rae scratched the table with her long claws.’

I don’t trust them,’ the badger said, looking up sharply. ‘They don’t smell right.’

‘Shit, that badger’ s giving me one hell of a glare!’ Layla was disconcerted.
Standing up confidently and brushing himself down Tyrone spoke. ‘Don’t worry, babe, I got this.’
‘Tyrone, don’t!’ Kerry was panic stricken.
‘Keep your pet away from them!’ the badger spoke urgently from beneath the table.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ Kerry sounded helpless.
‘Look,’ Rae snapped. ‘This isn’t going to work out long term if we can’t persuade them to join us voluntarily. Go get them a drink.’
Tyrone strutted over to the table of vampires. ‘Ladies…’ he gave a wink.
‘Ooo the stud’s coming over.’ Layla purred. ‘HELLO HANDSOME, HOW LOVELY TO MEET YOU’

David,’ Rae coughed before acknowledging the new arrival. ‘Hi Tyrone, why don’t you and you friends come and join us? Layla was just going to get drinks. What would you like?’

‘Alright, babe?’ Tyrone seemed unfazed by the fact that she knew his name. ‘What you up to?’

Licking her lips seductively, Layla simpered, ‘I’m just getting a round in, want to help me carry them back? Call your mates over. Maybe not the badger though. What’s wrong with that thing?’
Rae coughed louder. ‘DAVID!’

Tyrone turned and waved, beckoning Kerry, who looked like she was about to crawl under the table and die. ‘Come and join us, Kerry.’
‘I don’t like it,’ the badger said firmly. ‘I say we run.’
‘We can’t exactly leave him… can we?’ Kerry sounded uncertain as she awkwardly rose to her feet.
‘Why are you saying we?’ the badger grumbled. ‘I’d leave him in a heartbeat, you know that.’
‘Alright, well, I’ll make sure it’s OK, then we’ll go, alright?’ she made her way slowly towards their table.
‘He’s probably already told them that you’re desperate and single and looking to form a love coven…’ the badger observed matter-of-factly.
‘Oh god!’ Kerry’s cheeks drained of any colour. ‘Yes… that is exactly what he’s done!’ A blush began to appear as she drew nearer. ‘Erm… hi… I’d like to start by saying, please, for the love of god, ignore my friend!’

 
‘Who?’ Rae asked, looking up at her. ‘Tyrone or that badger? He’s gone to get the drinks in with Layla.’ She nodded towards the bar. ‘Why is your badger glaring over like that? I didn’t know badgers could glare.’ When Kerry blinked dumbly at her she continued. ‘Did I hear something about a love coven?’

They can hear me?’ the badger bristled. ‘This is not good, at all. I say we make a break for it.’

Kerry’s face was now beetroot. ‘Erm… no…. erm… I… Really need to be going, actually. Probably shouldn’t have come in the first place… wow… your skin is so smooth…’

‘Tell your badger,’ Rae raised an eyebrow at the creature. ‘That yes, I can hear him, and there’s no need to be so rude! And there’s no need for you to rush off either. I’d love a chat. You are the girl that survived that apocalypse thing aren’t you?’
Kerry was becoming mesmerised by Rae and slowly sat down. ‘Well, it wasn’t really an apocalypse, after all.’

‘They aren’t human!’ the badger said urgently. ‘Get up, come on, get up you useless woman!’

‘Shush, Badger,’ Kerry gazed at Rae. ‘We’re talking.’
‘That one might not have been real,’ Rae observed.  ‘But I’m sure you can see from the news there’s going to be a real one any day now. And you did so well. You were so brave.’ She batted her eyelashes seductively.

Kerry stared at the table awkwardly. ‘Oh, well, it wasn’t just me, you know…’

‘I don’t need to watch this,’ the badger snorted and wandered off. At that point a random drunk burst into a rendition of Danny boy from the corner of the bar.

‘ LAYLA!’ Rae almost shrieked. ‘Put the drunk down, you don’t know where they’ve been!’

A man walks in and heads to the bar. He is tall, with a beard and a scar down the left side of his face. His entire demeanour screams military. He perused the drinks list before ordering and leaning on the bar. Tyrone was temporarily distracted by the well muscled man and started to puff out his chest and posture.

 

lipping Layla,’ Rae said exasperatedly. ‘She’s gone and started that drunk off singing! Anyway,’ she attempted to regain control of the situation. ‘As we were just saying… Oh, yes, that apocalypse. Feels like it was just a taste of things to come. Don’t you think?’

The drunk began another rendition, louder than the first.

‘Well, it was the bloody government, wasn’t it?’ Kerry had to almost shout above the noise of the pub. ‘I mean, corrupt bastards… When’s the next election anyway? Feels like it’s been years, doesn’t it?’

Badger re-enters, followed by Sam. The approach the table.  There is a definite bulge under Sam’s jacket, which is either a gun or, well, since she’s female it’s almost certainly a gun.
‘Well,’ she raised her eyebrows at the scene before her. ‘At first I thought that little Timmy might be stuck down the well,’ she nodded toward the badger, who was sitting triumphantly at her feet. ‘But now I see you’re being seduced by a vampire, honestly, I can’t leave you alone for a minute.’

Unperturbed, Rae shouted over the drunk Layla had brought to the table, who is serenading them loudly. ‘I just think it’s all been a sign of things to come, with everything that’s been going on. I was going to suggest maybe you and your friends might like to come away with Layla and I? Find somewhere safe. We could look after you…’ She looked to Layla for support, but both she and Tyrone were far too preoccupied by the newest arrival to notice. ‘This is not going to plan,’ she muttered. ‘How come this has ended up being the party table? Who the hell is this Marcus guy? Damn Sam for turning up right now…’

‘I can look after everyone, but thanks.’ Sam placed her hand strategically on the handle of her weapon. ‘And there had better not be any deaths by blood loss in the area, I know where you’re staying.’
‘Bloody Layla,’ Rae muttered, feeling the hint of failure. ‘Got to turn everything into a party. Feck it. I tried. I’m going home before that badger bites me or Sam does something other than just flash that blade at me.’
And you can find more from Rae and Layla in Darkly Dreaming.

And more from Kerry and the Badger in I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse

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Chapter 2: There’s a Knack to It

Badger will be taking part in CampNanoWriMo for July, and thought it might be fun to post her progress, for you lot to read and comment on.  She is writing a fantasy novel called The Smuggler’s Daughter.  Be sure to check back regularly to find out what happens next.

Missed Chapter 1? Read it here.

Chapter Two: There’s a Knack to It

“What did you hear?” Pa said, knocking lightly on Victoria’s bedroom door.

“Nothing, Pa,” she smiled at him looking up from her book.  “You know me, I never hear anything.”

“Good girl,” he smiled.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah, we just have to be a bit careful.  There’s a new Justice in Smoke, they’re cracking down on the business.” Pa always called it ‘the business’.

“What’s coming in?” Victoria put her book down and gave him her full attention.

“Gent’s fashions, from over the water.  You learned languages in that school, didn’t you?”

“Mais oui,” Victoria smiled at him.

“Good girl, you can come with me to the meeting tomorrow.

“What time, Pa?”

“Lunch time,” Pa looked at her, his dark brow furrowed in confusion.  He was a big man, square jawed with a permanent eight o’clock shadow.  To someone who didn’t know him he could be quite intimidating, but Victoria just knew him as her Pa. “Why? Made plans, ‘ave ya?”

“Yes, actually,” Victoria laughed.  “I made a friend today, and I was going to meet her after lunch.”

“Can you rearrange?” Pa stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“I’ll try, Pa.” She tried to disguise the disappointment in her voice. “I’ll get the train to Smoke in the morning and let her know I have other commitments.”

“Thanks, Vic.” Pal smiled and quietly shut the door behind him.

The next morning Victoria was up early.  She spent a great deal of time choosing the most appropriate outfit to meet the foreign gentlemen.  Or that’s what she told herself.  She hurried down the stairs, hooking her purse onto the loop on her dress and reaching for her keys.

“I’ll be back in time for the meeting, Pa,” she called as she headed out.

“You look nice,” Pa called after her as she hurried out of the door.

The day was grey, the summer heat diminished somewhat by the sea mist, which had rolled in the night before and remained.  It left a soft lingering dampness in the air, and whilst it wasn’t cold, people were instinctively remaining indoors, or walking with their heads down, less inclined towards social interaction as they were on a sunny day.  She bought her ticket and took her seat by the window.  The train juddered into life and heaved itself out of a stationary position with an arthritic jerk.  She rested her arm on the edge of the window, as much to steady herself as anything else, as the train rattled away from the station.  She watched as hills and forests rolled by and they entered the more oppressive industrial area that was Smoke.  Black soot billowed from chimneys and carts and carriages bustled past.  As Victoria stepped onto the platform she was greeted by shouting vendors, an odd smell of fish, drains and salted meat and the feeling of needing to rush.  Everyone here was in a hurry, so she too hurried up the steps and away from the platform.  Reaching the top of the steps and the cobbled streets she realised she had no idea where she was going.  Pa had taken her to Smoke, maybe twice when she was a girl, but she could barely remember it.  She hailed a cab and asked the driver to take her to White’s.  He looked her up and down, as though deciding whether she was joking or not, then shrugged, and helped her up the steps and into the carriage.  The initial journey was bumpy, as they rolled along the cobbled street past vendors, small shops and bars.  Smoke was busy, there were people everywhere, none of them noticing each other as they hurried about their own lives, oblivious to those around them.  How easy, Victoria thought as she peered out of the window, to just come here and disappear.  It was nothing like Calms, where everyone knew you and scrutinised your actions.  The cobbles seemed to disappear from beneath them as the cab moved forward, and the buildings became, larger, brighter, more expensive looking.  They turned down a road through a huge iron gate and up a gravel driveway to what could only be described as a mansion.  It had a flight of steps leading up to the entrance, which was supported by huge white columns.

“Here we are, then, miss,” the driver offered her a hand down the steps and onto the path.

“Is this it?” Victoria felt her heart racing as she observed the massive building.  She looked down awkwardly at her dress.  It was her best, but it had several repairs, and the hem was worn.

“Yes, miss.  Were you supposed to meet someone?”

“Not here,” she took a deep breath and steadied herself.  “I shan’t be long, would you mind waiting for me?”

“Not at all, miss,” he tipped his hat respectfully and seated himself on the wheel of the carriage.

Victoria swallowed hard and mounted the steps into the entrance of the ominous building.  There was a man standing at a sort of pulpit in the entrance, a book spread open before him as though he were about to begin a sermon.  He looked disdainfully at her as she walked in, and she checked herself and tried to smooth the creases from her dress that had formed during her journey.

“Are you on the list?” he asked in a tone that implied he was certain she wasn’t.

“No,” Victoria looked straight at him.  She knew he was a member of staff, and her finishing school had trained her to always speak in a commanding way to staff, to show that you have breeding.  “My friend is here, I wonder if you would mine passing a note to her?”

“Who’s your friend?” the man asked suspiciously, although he did obligingly pass her a pen and paper.

“Isabelle…” Victoria stumbled slightly, realising she only knew Is’s first name.  It seemed however a first name was enough.

“Miss Rafferty?” the whole attitude of the man seemed to change, suddenly he was nervous.  “Would you like me to take you to their table?”

“No!” Victoria was horrified at the prospect, she quickly scribbled her note, folded the paper and handed it to him with the pen. “Please just give her this, thank you.”

The man nodded at her and scurried off.  Turning heel she hurried back down the steps and towards the cab when she heard her name being called from the steps.

“Vicky! I say, wait a mo, will you?” Is was hurrying down the steps.  She was wearing a dark green gown which perfectly complimented the red of her hair and the emerald of her eyes, but, whilst on a mannequin of this colouring it would have looked beautiful, on Is is looked almost awkward, as she pulled at it, battling to get more freedom of movement as she pursued Victoria down the steps.

“I didn’t want to disturb your brunch,” Victoria said awkwardly, waiting for her to catch up.

“Oh gosh, I wish you would, I’m on the verge of slitting my wrists with the butter knife!” Is laughed lightly.

“I have to get back to Pa,” Victoria looked uncomfortably at the cab driver.

“Well, look here,” Is said coaxingly, removing her pocket watch from her pocket and glancing at it. “It’s ten thirty now, stay for half an hour, the cab’ll have you back by midday!”

“I can’t afford to take a cab all the way back, Is!” Victoria looked away, ashamed by the admission.

“Of course not,” Is sounded mortified. “I’m sorry, Vic, look, cab’s my treat, alright?  You don’t mind waiting, do you?” she asked the cab driver.

“Not at all, Miss Rafferty,” the cab driver nodded respectfully at her.

“There!” Is spoke triumphantly. “Come on, save me from the butter knife!” She held out her hand and Victoria allowed herself to be led in.

The inside of the building gleamed.  It was pristine, and the massive windows caused light to reflect off the bright white walls and make the splendour of the dining area look more enormous than even it was.  Victoria didn’t like it, however.  Something about its size made it ghastly and impersonal; not at all like the Unicorn Pub in Calms, where she and Pa would sometimes go for lunch.  That was cosy and friendly, and you felt safe.  Here, she had never felt more exposed.

Is led her to a table facing the window, overlooking the massive and immaculately kept garden.  Victoria suspected that a daisy would not dare show its happy yellow face to disturb the oppressively bright green of the lawn.  Her ruminations were interrupted as she heard her name being spoken.

“Mother, Thomas, this is my friend Victoria,” Is introduced her and automatically Victoria found herself giving a small dip, as though in the presence of royalty. “I’d arranged to meet her here after brunch, but her train was early, so I invited her to join us.”

“Of course,” a tall, well bred woman with dark auburn hair and a stiff poise which made her appear somewhat rigid, forced a smile. “Please have a seat, Victoria.”

“Thank you,” Victoria spoke, but the words came out cracked, her mouth suddenly very dry.

“Juice?” Is had poured a glass from a jug on the table and handed it to her.  She smiled with gratitude and took a sip.

“Really, Isabelle,” the woman chided. “I wish you wouldn’t do the staff’s job for them!”

“I am perfectly capable of pouring a drink, mother!” Is shot back! “I’m not an invalid!”

Sir Thomas laughed.  “You certainly aren’t.  What do you make of her, Victoria? Quite the independent.  She’ll be going on one of those votes marches next!”

“Votes marches?” Victoria asked, sipping her drink.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of them?” He leaned back in his seat, clearly pleased to be given the opportunity to exercise his vocal chords. “Bloody women, marching on the capital, demanding the vote! What do they put back? Eh? If you don’t pay tax you shouldn’t have a say as to what it’s spent on, that’s what I say!”

“Perhaps if there were more options open to women than marriage or prostitution, which, let’s face it, is marriage but less boring, then perhaps women would pay tax!” Is shot back.

“Darling!” Sir Thomas still had a note of humour in his voice, but Is’s mother looked mortified by the outburst. “I hope that marriage is rather more comfortable than prostitution! And you wouldn’t want to end up a spinster, would you? How would you live?”

“On my wits, I daresay,” Is was confident, but not sharing the joke that Sir Thomas thought they were.

“And what about you, Miss…” he looked at Victoria.

“Smith,” Victoria lied, she did not want to advertise her surname to these people, Pa wouldn’t like it.

“Smith, what about you, do you want the vote?”

“I try not to get involved with politics,” Victoria smiled charmingly. “Leave politicking to the politicians, I have enough to do at home.”

“Well said!” Sir Thomas beamed.

“Indeed,” Is’s mother’s face seemed to relax and she leaned back in her chair. “I’m glad you’re spending time with such a sensible girl, Isabelle.”

“And of course, I live for your approval, mother,” Is looked thoroughly disappointed in her, and she felt a pang of sadness and took another sip of juice. “I suppose that’s what happens in finishing school, is it, Vic? They beat any sort of opinion out of you?”

“And teach you grammar,” Victoria gave her the most charming smile, which made Is snort.

“Oh? Which finishing school?” Is’s mother took an immediate interest.

“Le Belle Dame,” Victoria spoke with a perfect accent.  “I am only recently home.”

“That’s an excellent school!” Mrs Rafferty trilled. “How did you find it?”

“Very pleasant,” Victoria took a sip of her drink and carefully dabbed her mouth on a napkin. “The mistresses are very professional and the weather is so perfect, it almost made me sad to come home, although we have been lucky these last few days, have we not?”

“Yes, indeed, it’s been wonderful weather.”

“Well, damn, Vic,” Is laughed as she walked her down the steps to the cab. “I think my mother might actually be in love with you!”

“That’s what finishing school does,” Victoria grinned and prodded her shoulder teasingly. “Makes you personable!”

“Thanks a bunch!” Is laughed, offering her a hand into the cab.

“Aren’t you coming?” Victoria asked as she went to shut the door.

“What?”

“You told your mother we had plans, I just didn’t want to make a liar of you!”

“Good point!” Is laughed.  “Alright then!” She climbed in, reached out the window and tapped the side of the cab, which took off at a slow trundle.

“So, what are our plans?” Is asked conversationally as she peered out of the window at the passing streets.

“Well, I have to help Pa with a business meeting, but we could do something afterwards. Do you like the beach?”

“I don’t have strong feelings about it either way,” Is grinned.

“Must be the only thing you don’t have an opinion on!” Victoria laughed.

“Do you think it’s awful that I’m so opinionated?  I know everyone hates it.” Is looked awkwardly at her shoes.

“No, I think it’s wonderful! I’ve never met anyone quite like you!”

“Probably best! Too many like me and the world would fall into chaos!”

“Maybe the world needs a little chaos?” Victoria suggested.

“I don’t think it’s ready!”

They pulled up outside outside the cottage and Is offered her a hand down.

“Shall I put it on the account, Miss Rafferty?” the driver asked politely.

“Oh, yes please, if you don’t mind?” Is had reached for her purse, but put it back.

“Not at all, Miss.  Will you want picking up?”

“I’ll take a chance on the train, I don’t know how long we’ll be.”

“Very well,” he tipped his hat respectfully and urged the horses on.

“This is it,” Victoria said a little awkwardly as she led Is up the steps to the door of the cottage.  She had the feeling that the home that she and her father loved so much would seem very shabby to Is.

“Oh, it’s charming!” Is smiled brightly. “I’d much rather live here than anywhere in Smoke, it’s so impersonal and cold there!”

“Even your home?” Victoria asked as she pulled the door towards her before turning the handle.  It was old and the hinges hung slightly wrongly, so one had to both pull and lift before the handle would turn.  

“Especially my home!” Is laughed. “You’ve met my mother!”

“I thought she was very nice!” Victoria laughed. The door finally gave way under the effort and swung open with a mournful creek.  The hallway was a mess, the coat stand was strewn across the floor and all the books knocked from the shelf.  The banister leading up the staircase was shattered as though it had been struck with something heavy.

“I say, Vic.” Is touched her arm uncertainly. “Looks like there’s been an awful to do in here…”

“Pa?” Victoria’s voice trembled and came out much more quietly than she’d intended, so she tried again, this time shouting. “Pa!” She pulled away from Is and flew about the cottage, flinging doors open and checking rooms, all the time calling for her father.  When it became clear he was not there she hurried to the parlour.  At the back was an old metal safe, black with a golden knob attached to the heavy door.  She fumbled with her key, her hand was shaking, but she needed to be calm. She pressed the door of the safe firmly closed with her foot so the bolts were under no pressure. Once this was done the key turned easily.  It was then a question of twisting the knob and wrenching it open.  It was a heavy door, to someone unaccustomed to it, it would appear still locked, but she had felt the tumblers move beneath the turn of the key, she knew the safe as though it were a part of her, so she pulled hard, tumbling backwards slightly as the door swung open.  Reaching in, she took the gun in her trembling hand and pushed the door of the safe closed.

“Damn, Vic…”

She swung around and found herself pointing the gun at Is.  She was shaking and a tear rolled down her cheek as she lowered it.

“Alright,” Is put her hand gently on top of Victoria’s gun hand and pried the weapon free. “It’s alright,” she spoke very definitely and calmly. “I’ll keep a hold of this, if we need it you can have it back, alright?”

“We?” Victoria blinked at her.

“Yes, we dummy! You think I’m letting you walk into whatever it is you’re walking into alone? Wouldn’t be very chivalrous of me, would it?” she half laughed. “What exactly are we walking into?”

“I don’t know,” Victoria confessed. “But they have Pa, and I reckon I know where!”

The Smuggler’s Daughter is Copyright Claire Evans 2017, and the cover image is courtesy of Angelika Rust. To find out more about the author, visit chclepitt.com

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Chapter 1: I Don’t Mind the Daisies

Badger will be taking part in CampNanoWriMo for July, and thought it might be fun to post her progress, for you lot to read and comment on.  She is writing a fantasy novel called The Smuggler’s Daughter.  Be sure to check back regularly to find out what happens next.

Chapter One

The sun beat down hard, causing circles of of red, black, pink and orange to dance on the inside of Victoria’s closed eyelids. She breathed deeply, enjoying the sweet scent of the long grass and the sound of birds chirping above her.  The heat of the sun was cooled by a gentle breeze, which lightly rustled the trees, and somewhere in the distance, someone had set a fire.  She loved being home.  Four years of finishing school, and it had felt like she had not had a moment’s privacy.  But now she was back, in the tiny village of Calms, surrounded by fields, and a five minute walk from the beach.  Of course, it was only an hour carriage ride from the city, and at weekends the peace was shattered by city folks trying to enjoy the green.  But this was not the weekend; now, there was silence.

“Isabelle!” A shrill voice shattered the tranquility and Victoria propped herself up on her elbows, squinting against the bright sunlight, trying to identify the source of the intrusion.  “Isabelle!” The voice shrilled again. “Come back! You’ll get pollen all over your dress!”

“I don’t mind the daisies, mother!” A younger, softer voice responded.  “And they aren’t like lilies, the pollen doesn’t stain!”

“If Mrs. Sykes leaves us because you ruin another dress, Isabelle…” the shrill voice chided.

“She won’t, mother!” Isabelle sounded tired. “If it has any pollen on it, well, I shall clean it myself, but I’m certain it won’t.”

“I’m going home, Isabelle! Will you come?”  There was a long silence. “Isabelle?”

“I’ll catch the train, later. I have my purse.”

“Catch the train alone?  What if…”

“I’ll be fine!  It’s such a lovely day, I can’t bear to be inside on it.”

“If only you showed such enthusiasm for Sir Thomas.”

“Perhaps I would if he was as lovely as this day and this place!”

“You are insufferable!”

“I know!”

Then, the noise stopped.  Victoria leaned back down and closed her eyes once more, but a shadow fell over her and she tried to rest.  Opening her eyes revealed a silhouette, completely black with the sun behind it, of a woman, in a long dress peering down at her.

“I say,” the voice was the girl identified as Isabelle. “I’m sorry you had to hear all that riot! Did not see you lurking amongst the daisies.  Come here often?”

“Not for about four years,” Victoria surrendered to the disruption and propped herself back up on her elbows. “Do sit down, I can’t make you out at all with the light behind you, you may as well be a demon!”

“Perhaps I like being anonymous!” The girl laughed lightly, but obliged by sitting down opposite her.  “I’m Is,” she held out her hand in the way a man might when meeting another man.  Victoria studied it curiously.  She had been taught that ladies curtsey to one another, but never shake hands.  She supposed sitting in the position they were would make curtseying difficult, but the hand was offered with such a natural confidence that it might be the most normal thing for women to shake hands. “I say,” Is looked slightly hurt. “Don’t leave me hanging here, gosh!”

“Sorry!” Victoria half laughed, took the hand and shook it. “Victoria, Vicky, if you like.”

“Jolly nice to meet you!” Is shook her hand vigorously. “They don’t teach handshakes in finishing school I don’t suppose.”

“No.”

“Oh, I was joking.  You’ve been to finishing school?”

“Yes, I only came home yesterday.”

“Are you finished?”

“Well, I suppose I must be, mustn’t I?” She studied the strange girl, with her shock of red hair, angular features and bright green eyes that sparkled with mischief.

“How depressing,” she observed, leaning back on her elbows, matching Victoria’s pose. “What is there left to do then? Find a husband, I suppose.”  She pulled a stem of grass from amongst the many that concealed them, carefully peeled the stray leaves and placed it between her teeth.

“You really shouldn’t lean back,” Victoria said urgently, sitting up and holding out her hand. “The way your mother reacted to pollen, grass stains may actually kill her!”

“We can at least live in hope!” Is laughed lightly and lay all the way back. “I suppose you think me terribly wicked now?”

“No,” Victoria pulled herself up and hugged her knees through her skirt. “I just think you might be the most honest person I’ve ever met.  I mean, you just say what you think, don’t you?”

“Little point in saying what I don’t think, is there?  May as well be a politician!  I suppose they told you you should lie in polite society, did they?” She sat up and studied Victoria when she didn’t get an answer. “No need to worry here, I’m not polite society.”

“Not lie,” Victoria said thoughtfully.  “Just, only to say bland things, nothing that might shock, or cause controversy.”

“So you can be a bland wife to a bland husband and have bland children.  How very vanilla.”

“Vanilla?”

“It’s bland, isn’t it? Does anyone actually like vanilla? It’s what you have if you prefer texture to flavour, I think.  I always opt for strawberry,” she added after a pause.

“I quite like vanilla,” Victoria smiled, she was enjoying not having to be concerned with etiquette,  which was clearly foreign to this strange girl.  “I suppose I will suit my bland life very well.”

“No,” Is said firmly and without hesitation. “They’ve tried to mould you into vanilla, but you are peppermint with chocolate chips, I can tell.”  She sprung to her feet and held out her hand. “Care to grab a cone? I have money!”

“Alright,” Victoria took her hand and allowed herself to be pulled up.  “I suppose you will judge me terribly if I choose vanilla?”

“Of course not,” Is offered her arm as they began to walk off.  She was a good four inches taller than Victoria, and seemed uncomfortable in her dress, pulling at it every so often as they walked and shifting.  “If your prefered path is vanilla, then good for you, I say.  Would make life a damn site simpler, wouldn’t it, if we all liked what we were supposed to.”

“You mean like Sir Thomas?” Victoria asked, taking the vacant arm.  She would never normally have been so impertinent, but Is seemed not to care one hoot for formality, and it made the conversation easy and free.

“Yes! Now you come to mention it!” Is laughed as they turned onto the gravel path that lead out of the field and into the heart of the village.  The gravel made a sort of satisfying crunching sound beneath her feet and the breeze lightly shifted their hair, causing a welcome reprieve from the heat of the sun.  There was still the faint smell of smoke from the distant bonfire.  Is discarded the grass she’d been chewing and lead the way confidently to the ice cream parlour.

“Ladies,” a stout man with a handlebar moustache greeted them from behind the desk.  Victoria recognised him immediately from her childhood visits with her father, but clearly four years had changed her.  “What can I get you?”

“I’ll have a strawberry cone, please,” Is smiled cheerily at him as she unhooked her purse from a loop on her dress. “And my friend likes vanilla.”

“Actually, I think I’d like peppermint and chocolate chip, please,” Victoria smiled at the man, then glanced at Is, who was grinning so broadly that she felt shy and looked down at her feet.

“Righto,” Is opened her purse. “What’s the damage?”

The searing sun caused the cones to melt quickly, and there was silence for a long time as they sat on the bench outside the ice cream parlour trying to catch the drips before they reached their sleeves.  The silence continued long after they had finished, they simply sat, watching people pass by on the street.  First school was out, and there were mothers leading squawling infants away from the school house, followed by boys in shorts with long socks and clumpy great shoes chasing after one another, carrying jackets and ties which they had clearly stripped as soon as freedom permitted.  They were followed by girls holding hands, in knee length dresses tied at the waist with ribbons, occasionally squeaking with delight as a boy scooted past pulling their plaits or knocking their bonnet from their heads.  Victoria went inside and purchased them each a cloudy lemonade. When she returned she found Is wistfully watching  the miners as they returned from the mines.  They were grubby in their shirt sleeves and open collars, but she seemed enthralled by them, somehow.

“Is there someone else?” Victoria asked suddenly as she placed the lemonade in front of Is and climbed awkwardly back onto the bench.

“What?” Is looked up suddenly as though caught doing something terrible.

“Why you don’t like Sir Thomas,” Victoria felt awkward, as though she’d crossed some invisible line.  There had been no lines – but now there was some sort of huge awkward barrier.

“Oh,” Is seemed to shake it off although her cheeks were flush.  “No, I was just admiring their clothes.”  She pulled at the collar of her dress again, eventually deciding to unbutton it.  She sighed as though it had been strangling her.

“Their outfits?” Victoria observed her incredulously. “They’re mine workers, it’s not exactly high fashion, is it?”

“But they look so free,” she was still watching the men. “They can just be who they are, can’t they?  Look at them, collars loose, sleeves rolled, no-one forcing them to do anything…  They’re so comfortable in their own skin.” She pulled at her dress again and laughed.

“You seem very comfortable,” Victoria was studying her with interest.  “I’ve never met anyone so much themselves.”

Is looked confused, studying herself and her dress.  She pulled at her sleeves before saying. “Maybe I’m me, and this is my cage.”  She pulled a pocket watch from her purse and looked at it. “Best head off to the train station, if I’m out after dark mother will send out the cavalry!”

“I’m sorry, Is,” Victoria stood urgently with her as she rose. “I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“What?” Is looked at her for a moment. “You didn’t,” she laughed lightly and her eyes sparkled again. “I really am that afraid of my mother, she’s terrifying!” She laughed again and offered an arm. “Walk me to the station?”

Victoria slipped her arm through Isabelle’s and walked with her to the small station on the edge of Calms.  Dusk was just starting to set in, and whilst it was still very warm there was a soft breeze now that seemed soothing.

“It’s that damn finishing school’s what it is,” Is said after a long break. “I bet you any money that if they hadn’t carted you off there you wouldn’t have even thought that you might have offended me.  Wouldn’t have crossed your mind.  They want us to always be afraid, and to know our place.”

“Maybe,” Victoria said thoughtfully.  “I can’t really remember how I was before.”

“Indoctrination,” Is said firmly.  “They’ll break you one way or the other.  Not me, though, I won’t be broken,”

They arrived at the ticket office and Is bought a ticket to Smoke.  Victoria walked her to the platform and waited with her in silence for the train.

“Well, look,” Is said as the train pulled in. “It’s been frightfully nice today, and I feel, well a bit like we’re, I don’t know, friends?”

“I think so too!” Victoria had been forcing down an anxious feeling, a sort of panic as though she were about to lose something very important and was powerless to prevent it.  It was as though Is felt it too, but she wasn’t powerless, she was strong.

“So, why don’t you come and visit me in Smoke tomorrow?” She asked as she backed towards the platform.  “I mean, if you’re not already busy?”

“I’m not!” Victoria smiled broadly.

“Well, good!  I have brunch with Sir Thomas and Mother at White’s, but should be done by two, so if you catch the two-fifteen I’ll meet you at the station; sound alright?”

“Yes!”

“You don’t say much, do you?”

“I don’t need to with you here!”

“Fair enough!” Is grinned and gave her a hug. “See you tomorrow, then.  Cheerio!” And with that she hopped on the train and was gone.

Victoria smiled all the way home.  It was still light, but there was a duskiness in the air, as the mist was rolling in from the sea.  She climbed the steps to the small thatched cottage that sat on the edge of the village overlooking the sea.  The front door wasn’t locked, Pa always left it open until she was home, so she turned the heavy knob and heaved it open.

“Pa?” she called as she untied her bonnet and hung it on the hook.  “I’m home. Pa?”

“Hi Vic,” Pa’s voice came from the sitting room.  “I’ve got some gents in with me, be a good girl and go to your room, eh?”

“Alright,” she agreed, peering in at the coat tails of the two large men who were standing facing her father. “Good night, then.”

“G’night, love.”

The Smuggler’s Daughter is Copyright Claire Evans 2017, and the cover image is courtesy of Angelika Rust. To find out more about the author, visit chclepitt.com

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Becoming Raff

A short story by C H Clepitt

Part One: Who Am I?

Raff pulled his collar up and headed down the cobbled street.  It was late and becoming-raffthere was a smell of smoke in the air, combined with sewage and a sort of burnt sulphur that lurked generally in the atmosphere at this time of night.  He was heading to the Red Monkey Tavern.  He had been there for the past three nights and liked the atmosphere.  He would order beer and sit quietly in the corner and people watch.  As he approached the Tavern entrance he plunged his hands into his pockets, focused firmly on his feet and headed in through the crowds of men and working girls who gathered outside.  Just as he was about to enter the building someone shoved him hard in the side, causing him to sidestep into another group of men.

“Watch where you’re going, boy!” A rugged looking man shoved him hard in the chest.

“I’m sorry,” he gasped, stepping backwards into someone else.  “I’m sorry!” he gasped again, turning around to see who else was going to push him.

“Oh don’t worry, darling,” a woman with a scar that disfigured the entire left side of her face was looking a Raff curiously. “I’ve had worse.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Don’t be sorry for me, darling.  You need to be sorry for yourself.  Come inside and buy me a drink before one of these great oafs takes your head off for looking at ‘em funny.”

She took his hand and led him through the crowds into the Tavern.

“Thing is, darling,” she said to him as they drank their second pitcher of ale. “You’re little.  I mean proper slight, any one of these idiots could kill you just by punching you.  And you’re quiet, gentle spoken, like.  I’m sure there must be some nice gentleman’s club you could frequent where you won’t get stabbed or anything.”

“I like it here,” Raff smiled.  “No-one knows me, and mostly they leave me alone.  I feel like I can really be myself here.”

“You’re lucky, not many people here get to be themselves, we all have to play a role.”

“What’s your role?”

“Ha, I’m the madam, darling!  Ain’t no-one gunna touch me now I got this, but ain’t no-one gunna touch any of my girls, I take care of them, for a percentage.”

“Sounds lucrative.”

“You want a girl, you ask Polly, I’ll sort you out, any type, I got em all.  I’ll do you a sweet deal too, cos you’re nice and ain’t said nothing about me scar.”

“I’m alright for now, thank you,” Raff began awkwardly.  “I don’t think you should worry about your scar, you’re a nice person, people will see beyond it.”

“Oh sweet’eart, not in my line of work they won’t.  So, you got a sweetheart, or don’t you like girls?”

“I don’t really know what I like,” he said truthfully.  “I like who I am, here, now, with you.”

“Well, ain’t that sweet, I’m here every night, gotta keep an eye on my girls though, so you’ll have to excuse me if I leave you.”

“Of course.”

“‘Ark at ‘e! ‘of course’! I’m sitting with a proper gentleman.  I’ll get your story out of you eventually.”

“Maybe.”

It was dawn when Raff left the tavern and headed down the streets home.  He scrambled over the fence into the back garden to his parents’ home, and up the large oak tree that overlooked his bedroom window.  It was a bit of a jump, but he’d discovered that if he didn’t look down then it was easy enough to make the distance.  Grabbing the window ledge he pulled himself into the window and landed on the floor with a heavy thump.

“Isabelle?” his mother’s voice called from down the corridor.  “Are you alright?  Did you fall out of bed again?”

“I’m fine mother,” he responded, quickly changing out of his evening clothes and pulling a night dress on over his bound breasts.  “Just tripped on the chair.”

“Well hurry up, we’re having brunch with Sir Thomas at eleven, and you need to be looking your best, I have a new dress being delivered for you.

“Yes, mother.”

Find out what happens next, download the complete short story pdf

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