Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.


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Instafreebie

I’ve recently started putting stories on Instafreebie, which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a site where, obviously enough, you can find free reads! It seems well organised and, from an author point of view, is another way of reaching new readers. Apart from the short stories I’ll continue to list as free on a permanent basis, I’m also putting books up for around a week at a time. If anyone knows anything I don’t know about Instafreebie I’d love to hear from you! At this stage I’m only using the free service; I know you can pay for different services.

These are my perma free stories at the moment and I intend to add another one very soon:

you never knew  You probably think this story’s about you, don’t you?

Brown Dog  Luke is flat broke and living in his car at the beach when an old mutt sidles up to him–the last thing he needs, or is it?

What Did You Say?  Not a short story but a small ebook to help with grammar and punctuation. Do you know the real purpose of the humble apostrophe?

I always tweet the temporary giveaways and you can find details on the right side of my blog posts or on twitter.

I’ve just been on my annual trek to my home town for my mother’s birthday. I do try to get there more often but never miss Mum’s birthday. She’s 97 now and still living at home (alone) and cooking her own meals. She does have some help with the housework as well as the garden but she still likes to potter around out there as well. There are lots of other family members who live much closer than I do, fortunately, including more grandchildren and great grandchildren than I can keep track of! It’s always nice to visit my old home town but it’s good to come back to the place that’s been my home for over 30 years.

Most of my books are available in print and ebook on Amazon.com and Amazon.UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Writing Challenge–2nd person point of view

My writing is focused on novels these days but I do enjoy trying something different now and then. Think of it as a creative cleansing. The idea of writing a novel in the 2nd person is awful but I’m sure it’s been done. Try a paragraph or two and see where it takes you. As usual this is a challenge with no prize but feel free to add links to your paragraph in my comments section. Here’s my effort:

YOU NEVER KNEW

(c) Christine Gardner 2016

You probably think this story’s about you, don’t you?

You never knew what hit you. When you got up that morning you took your new suit off the hanger and carefully pulled it from the plastic covering. It looked schmick, you thought; the young bloke in the store had been right. It was nice to have a change from that funereal black you wore all the time. You weren’t so sure about the shirt—it was pale pink and you held it in front of you in the mirror and pulled a face. With your hair starting to grey at the sides and your beard definitely grey you wondered if you looked too much like a grey and pink galah.

You took one of your white shirts from the walk in robe you shared with nobody anymore and hung it on the doorknob. Old Dolly had done a good job of washing and ironing it, as she did all your clothes these days. She looked after you so much better than a wife would. And much cheaper. Also she knew when to keep her mouth shut, which was most of the time.

Your favourite tie, the grey one with the swirls of different shades of blue, would look perfect with the grey suit and the white shirt. You glanced over at the pink shirt again and shook your head. Definitely the white one; the pink one might do one day with one of your black suits, or jeans even. You hung it in the wardrobe and walked into the bathroom where you stood under the steaming hot shower and let your mind go to places usually banned. The shower was good for that, and bad. You didn’t really want to think about her but sometimes you needed to. Sometimes you just had to remember.

She was the prettiest thing you’d ever seen, natural blond with the most enchanting green eyes, like a fairy-tale witch, you teased her.  You’d simply had to have her; it wasn’t difficult. She was young and naïve and you were neither. You sent her flowers at first, then jewellery, and you took her to the best restaurants where you educated her palate with the best wines on the menu. You even bought her a brand new grey BMW; not the garish red one she wanted because you were trying to teach her what good taste was. You knew what was best for her and it wasn’t long before she did whatever you asked of her. Anything.

Then you got bored. She was, after all, very naïve. No matter what you tried to teach her she was just a pretty face with an empty head. In the bedroom she was magical; outside it she was as useless as a Christmas decoration at Easter time.

You looked in the bathroom mirror and smiled as you dried yourself. Not bad at all for an old bloke of fifty two, you thought. Not bad at all. You sprayed yourself with deodorant and splashed aftershave here and there, even though you weren’t shaving. The Armani one. Dropping the wet towel on the floor you went out to the bedroom and pulled on your Calvin Klein jocks and socks and then dressed in your white shirt and new grey suit.

The full length mirror showed all of you from your perfectly styled hair to your black Gucci loafers, which were your favourites. Easy to slip on and off, but still smart. You looked a million bucks, you thought. Almost too good for such an occasion.

You looked out the window and frowned as the rain started, then smiled. Perfect really, just the right weather for it. You grabbed your umbrella from the stand inside the front door and had one last look in the hall mirror before you left your apartment.

The doorman knew you well enough to guess you wanted a taxi; he also knew where you were going and why. He just nodded and waved a taxi down and you handed him a ten dollar note and got in.

The journey was only around thirty minutes, not bad considering the weather; it wasn’t raining heavily and it wasn’t cold, but dreary with intermittent showers, just like the redhead on the weather show earlier had promised. Perfect.

When you arrived there were a handful of people waiting, most of them no more than familiar faces that you couldn’t give a name to and didn’t care to. Her friends were of no interest to you and never had been, nor her family. You’d whisked her away from that and given her everything any woman could want and she hadn’t needed her family around her, or friends. You never really felt the need for friends yourself; it was all about business for you. You had associates, that was all.

The service was short, as you’d requested; you were paying for it after all. It was subdued and people were quiet for the most part. Everyone was staring at you of course, and whispering about you, but you didn’t care. The police had been satisfied she’d taken her own life and there was no way you could be blamed for that. Everything was tasteful and properly solemn—tranquil.  At least until some woman you didn’t recognise at all started bawling just as the casket was wheeled out of the chapel. You looked over at her and frowned, then stood up and walked, upright and with dignity, behind the casket, ignoring the obnoxious woman and her companions, who were comforting her and making her worse. You hoped she wouldn’t follow the ceremony right to the grave site.

You didn’t need to worry though. As you stepped out on to the road to get into the limousine, which was, of course, on the wrong side of the road, you looked up under your umbrella just in time to see a familiar grey BMW hurtling towards you. You would have jumped out of the way but the face behind the wheel made you freeze in mid-step. A face, unusually pale, but beautiful, with blond hair and stunning green eyes, bright with hate and, strangely, laughter. It can’t be, was all you had time to think, before it was all over for you. When the car stopped, after it hit you and then hit the hearse behind you, there was no driver and there was a lot of speculation in the press as to who had been driving the car that ended your life. Even the best forensics were not able to find any prints or DNA apart from yours and your late wife’s and they eventually decided it must have rolled when you parked it; that in your grief you’d neglected to put the handbrake on.

The pathologist who cut the new suit from your body noticed the label; he also noticed your shoes and even your Calvin Klein underwear, blood soaked as it all was. It was his job to notice such things of course and, were you looking down on the procedure, you’d have been happy you’d been so well dressed for the occasion.

For more information on my books please visit my author page at Amazon.com or Amazon. UK.

 


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Writing Challenge–Future tense

Hubby and I went to Melbourne on the train the other day for a show and on the way back, in the dark, with nothing to look at, I started thinking about story ideas. I tend to write in both first person and third person in my novels but I do like to mess around a bit with the occasional short story. I’ve done one in the present tense and I decided to try the future for a change. If you’d like to join in the challenge there’s no prize but you’re welcome to put a link in my comments section so everyone can have a read. Here’s my effort:

Tomorrow

© Christine Gardner

 In the morning I’ll get up at six o’clock. Steve won’t even notice; I’ve been getting up during the night lately and he’s a heavy sleeper anyway. If he does wake up he’ll presume I’ve gone to the toilet and go straight back to sleep. He will never imagine I could leave.

I have my bag packed and hidden in the linen cupboard, with just some essentials that will do for a couple of days until I get sorted. He never looks in there. I always make sure there’s clean towels in the bathroom and clean sheets on the bed, so why would he? I won’t stop for breakfast, just in case. I’ll just grab my bag and head out to the car. My little Pulsar. I won’t take Steve’s BMW because, after all, he’ll still need it for work. And I don’t need it, not really. Mine’s a little dented from when Steve backed into the fence but it runs okay; he’s very good at stuff like that. Everything in our house is well oiled and runs perfectly. Everything except me.

Will he be sad or relieved? Of course I know the answer to that; he’ll be furious. He’ll try to ring me first and then he’ll start driving around looking for me.

I’ll go to Maccas for breakfast, but not the one near us; I’ll drive over a suburb or two, maybe Richmond. I don’t know. I’ll find a Maccas somewhere, or a Hungry Jacks. Somewhere I’ll be ignored and I can just eat whatever junk food I want with no-one looking over my shoulder. Steve doesn’t like me eating junk food, especially now, but he’s always been a stickler for healthy eating while I just like to have a breakout occasionally. Mostly I eat healthy food but just now and then I like a change. Not Steve. He might be more horrified at my eating junk for breakfast than at me actually leaving him!

He’ll think I’m just doing it to annoy him; he thinks I deliberately push his buttons but I don’t. I try so hard to do what he wants—to be what he wants me to be. I’m just not that person—not Mrs Perfect—and I’ll never understand why, or how, he thought he could make me into something I’m not. Maybe he’ll find her once I’m out of the way.

After breakfast I’ll head over to Mum’s house and she’ll be surprised to see me so early, but glad Steve’s not with me. When I tell her I’ve left him she’ll be flabbergasted; she’s been nagging me for months to do just that and she doesn’t even know anything really. I never let her see me with black eyes and it’s easy enough to come up with a story about broken bones; she says I was always terribly clumsy as a child.

Then she’ll insist I call the police and I’ll say no, so she’ll call them. I’ll cry, I know, and she’ll probably shed a few tears as well, more for herself and her own memories than for me though.

The police will come—no doubt there’ll be a sympathetic female cop and a male who looks as if he can handle any irate husband. They’ll take my statement and suggest I move to a shelter for women like me—somewhere safer than my mother’s home. She, who protected me throughout all my childhood, can’t protect me anymore. I’ll agree of course, because I don’t want to put my mother at risk, but she’ll be at risk anyway. Steve will look for me there and won’t believe she doesn’t know where I am. He and Mum never really see eye to eye about anything, even though they both love me. It’s my fault. Steve’s right about that, I know. I have said bad things to Mum about him and of course she doesn’t like him. She thinks he’s a monster like my father but if I was better, a better wife, he would be perfect. And he’ll be a wonderful father.

The police will probably take me somewhere and then go to arrest Steve. There’ll be bail though and if he gets out he’ll go after my mother. If he doesn’t get out then he’ll go to gaol for a while and then be released and look for me again. And my mother.  And my child. My child will be born while her father is in gaol. How long will he be there for? Will she understand why her father’s not with us or will she grow up thinking he deserted her? Will I take her to see him in prison and have her know her father’s in gaol? That he hit her mother? That he had no regard for her safety, tucked away in her mother’s womb?

I sigh and pull the quilt further up around my neck. My child moves inside me and my husband, sound asleep, throws one arm over me, as if to prove ownership. My woman; my child. In the morning I won’t be leaving. I can’t condemn my child to a future with a father who’s in gaol; I’ll be a better wife. I’ll try harder to make my marriage work. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect; I can do better, I know I can.

***

For information on all my books please visit my author pages at Amazon.com and Amazon UK

 


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FREE SHORT STORY

Winter, or at least autumn, is here at last; we’ve had quite a bit of rain and very little sunlight this week. Lovely after a long, hot and dry summer. Whether you’re curled up in front of the fire or soaking up the sun on your outdoor lounge here’s a gift for you: The Runt of the Litter, from my short story collection. My short stories, like my novels, are over a large range of genres–that’s the way I like to read as well!

THE RUNT OF THE LITTER

© Christine Gardner

The boy stood at the edge of the cliff, staring at the waves smashing onto the rocks far below him. His coat, handed down from his father, flapped around his ankles in the roaring wind. Hugh was small for twelve and an onlooker would think he was in grave danger of losing his footing and slipping over the edge at any moment, but he was accustomed to the wind and had stood in this same spot far too many times since the death of his father four years earlier.

Before his father’s death, Hugh and his sister and brothers would never go anywhere near the cliff top; their father built a wall of rocks to keep his children and his sheep safe from the dangerBookCoverImageconnectionsous precipice. Since his death the wall had crumbled somewhat from the harsh and icy winds raging across the Atlantic Ocean and the cliff top had become a sanctuary of sorts for Hugh; a place of quiet isolation. Away from his stepfather.

His mother, Bridget, had married her childhood sweetheart, John McIntyre, when she was pregnant with Hugh and his birth was followed quickly by that of his twin brothers, Andrew and David. However they managed it, there were no more children for four years, until the arrival of Eliza, the apple of her father’s eye.

John and Bridget were content enough; at least Bridget thought they were. It was true, as all the villagers said, that  they didn’t have two pennies to rub together, but they always managed to feed the children; Bridget was very good at making a hearty soup from potatoes and mutton bones with the addition of a few herbs from her garden.

John, she found out one day, was not so content; he was worried about the future of their family. Eliza would marry a decent man, someone who could take care of her properly; John would make damn sure of that, but the boys could never make a living for all three of them on the little farm. They would want to marry and have families of their own—it simply was not possible. If he, John, though, were to go to Dublin for a few months? Just during the winter, when there was not much to be done here; the boys could take care of it, with a little help from their mother, then he could buy that plot of land Old O’Neill wanted to get rid of.  They could have a proper farm; even if he had to spend every winter at the Dublin mills for ten years, it would be worth it.

Bridget was horrified; she begged him not to go. She’d heard stories about the mills and about Dublin; it was not safe. And she couldn’t manage without him here. The boys were not old enough; she would be frightened without him. Eliza was just a baby. All her pleading did no good. Once John McIntyre made up his mind to do a thing it was as good as done.

She packed him a bag with a change of clothes and some mutton and bread and he filled his belly with her wholesome soup before he left. The children all woke to see him off on the trusty old chestnut, Sal.

He was found later that day by a farmer on the way home from market, by the side of the muddy road. Sal was nowhere to be seen and in fact was never seen again, at least not by the McIntyres. Someone, no doubt, had found a use for the animal. It seemed something must have frightened her and she’d thrown her beloved master into a nearby ditch, where he’d lain for several hours before the farmer came upon him.

“Are you all right?” the farmer had asked. The fellow had just looked at him, he told everyone later at the Old Cock Inn. He was trying to talk, but couldn’t manage it and then, that was it. “He just gasped for air, but couldn’t get none, like. He were a goner. Knew that soon as I saw him, of course.”

They’d buried him the next day and it was six months later when Bridget had succumbed to Jamie’s O’Donnell’s efforts at seduction. Or at least his persuasion—he could provide for her and all her children and, as he kept telling her, she clearly could not. She had no family left and John’s parents, who lived many miles south, were dirt poor and could never take them in. Since Jamie’d bought Old O’Neill’s bit of land next door the farm was now a reasonable size and he worked the boys hard to make sure it was in good shape.

Not that he was a shirker himself—everyone said Jamie O’Donnell would never ask anyone to do anything he’d not do himself. Of course Jamie was thirty-eight and he expected Hugh, at nine years old, to work as hard as he did. He was only slightly easier on the twins, who were eight, but taller than Hugh, who he always called the runt of the litter. And laughed every time he said it. That was the thing that annoyed Hugh the most—the laugh.

The beatings he could put up with—the continual bullying, both verbal and physical. The verbal was even a source of amusement at times, since he was well aware of his stepfather’s shortcomings in the areas of communication. Bridget’s grandfather had been the village parson and both John and Bridget saw value in reading, value in broadening the mind beyond the cottage, beyond the small village. They’d insisted all their children learn to read and write and Hugh had a stash of his father’s books hidden away. Jamie was not able to read and therefore did not want anyone else to read, especially in his house. Occasionally, just to taunt his stepfather, Hugh would use words he knew the man would not understand, to speak to his brothers, and they would look slyly at each other and grin when they thought he wasn’t looking.

He would become furious, of course, and Bridget would chastise them, but she couldn’t hide the smile, and the pride, in her eyes. Unfortunately Jamie saw it as well and would as likely hit her as the boys. None of them were safe from his jealous anger.

It was his little sister Hugh was most worried about. His mother, he figured, had made her bed and she must lie on it. He and the boys, well, they could put up with it for a few years; they’d talked about leaving, but knew they’d have to be older before they’d get a living wage anywhere. And they were reluctant to leave Eliza until she was a bit older.

She was eight years old when she first felt the back of her stepfather’s hand. It was also the last time. Eliza barely remembered her father; her brothers had told her about him and he was like a mythical creature in her mind—somewhere between a prince on a white horse and a unicorn—so Jamie O’Neill was her father, to all intents and purposes.

Bridget and Eliza were cooking and the little girl was excited to be able to use her mother’s knife for the first time, to peel the potatoes. Her stepfather came in just as she dropped a roughly peeled and chopped potato into the soup pot and he grabbed it out and looked at it.

“What do you call that?”

“A potato?” Her bottom lip quivered.

He threw it at her. “That’s a disgrace!” He looked at Bridget, already cowering in anticipation. “D’you expect me to eat that? It’s half peel and half dirt! Are you trying to kill me?”

“She’s just learning,” she said softly. “She has to start somewhere, Jamie.” She smiled at her daughter and handed her another potato. “Just let me check it before you put it in the pot this time.”

Jamie was not about to let it go though. “She’s bloody useless, that’s what she is. Just like her mother.” He looked the little girl up and down. “And what’s she wearing? That dress is too short for her. She looks like a little whore. Is that what you’re training her for?”

Eliza sat as still as she could, given her frail little body was shaking. She knew her dress was too short but Ma always said there was no money for fabric to make another. Tears rolled down her cheeks but she made no sound; she knew better than to make a fuss. Nonetheless his rough and enormous hand swiped across her face and Bridget stood up, shocked into action.

“Jamie!” She held her sobbing daughter to her chest and the tiny kitchen was suddenly filled with boys and noise and chaos and they were all yelling and they were not boys any more.

Jamie was hitting out randomly at whoever was close enough and he was massive in that room. He roared like a giant and Eliza’s sobs were drowned out and lost in the racket.

David picked up the poker from its place beside the fire and hit out wildly with it. Jamie laughed as it missed him and connected with the table. He was in his element; he loved a good fight and it was about time these little shits grew up and had a go.

When he saw Hugh take the poker from his younger brother he laughed even louder. “Oh ho, the runt’s going to have a go, is he?” He pulled his fist back to hit out at the boy but Hugh was quicker.

He took a deep breath and gripped that poker with an iron grip; he swung out at everything that was wrong with his life, at everything he hated. He brought the poker down on that hated head and silenced the laughter forever. Silenced the torment, silenced the bullying, silenced everything.

Bridget screamed when Jamie hit the floor; his face was a bloody mess and she knelt down beside him and put her head to his chest. Suddenly she was a widow again; she felt helpless. But when she looked up at her sons, at Hugh standing somehow taller, towering over her, backed by his brothers, and her daughter also staring at her brother with something like adoration, she realized she was not alone. Hugh was in charge.

“What will we do?” she asked him.

“Just take Eliza to your room, Ma,” he said quietly. “We’ll set things to right.”

The twins followed Hugh’s instructions and dragged the heavy body through the kitchen door to the cold and welcoming wind outside. They left him there while they cleaned up the blood on the kitchen floor so Ma and Eliza didn’t have to look at it.

It took some time to drag him all the way to the cliff and all the strength they had to hoist him over the crumbling rock wall. When they finally got to the cliff edge Hugh told them to leave the rest to him and to go back to help Ma and Eliza.

They were disappointed and relieved, in just about equal measure, and obediently returned to the cottage.

Hugh wanted to spend some time thinking, on his own. He wanted this moment to be a ritual; he knew he would remember every moment always and he wanted to remember it with pride.

So he stood there for several minutes—fifteen or more, with the wind whipping around him. He felt strong—invincible—and he knew he could do anything now.

He wasn’t shocked when he heard a groan from the heap beside him, only mildly surprised the man was still alive. And rather pleased. He now had the satisfaction of knowing that Jamie O’Neill would know his fate as he tumbled down to the rocks. And would know he’d been dispensed with, easily enough, by the runt of the litter. The last sound, apart from that of the waves crashing below, that Jamie heard before he met his maker was the sound of laughter—not his own this time.

NOT GUILTY, a true story of a mother who murdered her three children, is free on Amazon from May 10 to May 14. FOR MORE INFO ON ALL MY BOOKS CHECK OUT MY BOOK PAGE OR MY AUTHOR PAGES ON AMAZON.COM OR AMAZON UK

 


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Something for a rainy day.

It’s mid winter here in Oz and the heads on TV keep telling me we’re suffering a particularly severe cold spell from the Antarctic–personally I have no intention of going outside to check it out. They have mentioned snow in unusual places and if it happens to snow in our garden I’ll go outside but otherwise I’ll stay right here with the heater thank you very much. I will have to leave the comfort of my lounge room tomorrow but it’s Sunday here today and I’m staying put.

I realize it’s Saturday and summer for most of you and I don’t envy you that either–autumn and spring are the best times of the year here. I will admit winter is good for sleeping, for those of us lucky enough to have a nice cosy bed.

In my last blog I wrote about how my experiences affect my writing and mentioned my time on a Queensland beach–as a young couple my husband BookCoverImageconnectionsand I slept in a tent until a cyclone wrecked it and then in our car for a while. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it sounds now and I think it’s great to have life experiences that are perhaps a little removed from the mundane. I wrote a short story ‘Brown Dog’, in which I used some of my memories of beach-combing and being broke, away from home. Unlike Luke, the protagonist in my story, I was not friendless, nor suicidal! Fortunately we were able to find work and accommodation before too long; some of that work–like cutting sugar cane by hand (we lasted half a day)–is probably worthy of a place in one of my stories at some stage.

For now, enjoy ‘Brown Dog’, from my short story collection, ‘Connections‘.

Brown Dog

(c) Christine Gardner 

It was the ugliest dog Luke had ever seen. He was standing at the edge of the sea, not really contemplating suicide (but oh, what a seductive sea it was, just walk on in and don’t look back). The dog ambled over to him and just sat beside him, uninvited and unwanted. It was skin and bone, with long legs like a greyhound. All brown, with no relieving patches. Just an old brown dog. It whined and wagged its tail back and forwards across the sand.

‘Get lost, mutt,’ Luke said, with no real animosity. ‘I’m not in the market for a dog. I can barely feed myself.’

Delighted at being addressed, the dog sidled up closer to Luke and pressed itself against his bare legs. Luke felt himself being dragged unwillingly out of his black mood and somehow he was sitting down beside the dog, which was ecstatically licking his hand and jumping all over him. He laughed out loud, and was startled by the unfamiliar sound of it. He’d had precious little to laugh at lately.

Luke was living in his old EJ Holden, his tent having been wrecked by a severe hailstorm a month earlier. He was flat broke, existing day to day on whatever he could get from beach combing. This was meant to be a working holiday, but there was no work, and it sure didn’t feel like a holiday. A month earlier he’d put in half a day on a vineyard, picking grapes, after some loud mouths at the pub had been bragging about all the money they’d made. It was forty degrees by mid-morning and Luke had felt the sun burning his face to a crisp. By lunchtime he’d had it. His tally had earnt him the grand total of five dollars and he hadn’t even bothered to pick it up. Too embarrassed to face the blockie he’d just got in his oven-hot car and driven off.

Since then things had got steadily worse. In desperation he’d gone to the local social security office, only to be informed that he was not a local, and as this was an area of high unemployment he would have to wait for six weeks before being eligible for any financial assistance.

‘How am I supposed to live for six weeks with no money?’ he’d asked the pompous counter clerk. ‘Or is that the idea, I starve to death and then I won’t need any assistance?’

The clerk was not amused and suggested Luke go back home and apply at his own local office. Luke didn’t bother telling her he had no money to get home on. It would be at least $150 for petrol, and anyway there was no home really. He’d burned his bridges there.

The only hope came from a dirty looking young couple with matching dread-locks who were behind him in line and heard his conversation with the clerk. ‘Look man,’ the male said, ‘I know how you can make a few bucks if you’re hungry.’

Luke was dubious, but he was also hungry. ‘What’s that mate?’ he asked suspiciously.

‘Hey man, nothing heavy. It’s just beach combing, we do it all the time, hey babe?’ He looked at his female counterpart who nodded enthusiastically. ‘There’s a guy at the Island Bar pays ten bucks a bag for cuttlefish, y’know, for budgies? And sometimes there’s other stuff. Glass floaters are like gold; they’re off the big fishing nets, and the yuppies like to, y’know, hang ‘em on the front verandah to impress the neighbours.’

Luke thanked the young couple and headed straight over to the Island Bar to check the facts. He found the man he needed to see with no trouble at all; he managed the bar and also lived there. Big Al, as he was known to the locals, fitted in nicely between the beer barrels, being of a similar shape. His interior was probably similar as well, as he was almost never without a beer in his hand. No one had ever seen him drunk, but few had seen him sober. He was just the same any time of the day and in any state of inebriation—morose. Some bartenders are good listeners, and drinkers like to pour out their troubles while the bartenders pour out the beer. They soon learnt that Big Al, while he was prepared to listen, could top any sad story with one of his own much worse tales.

‘Look,’ he said to Luke, ‘I get bugger-all out of this cuttlefish business, but since I also get bugger-all for this job here, every little bit helps. What I really like to see is those glass balls; I can give you 40 bucks for one of them, and 20 for the plastic ones.’ He gave Luke a sugar bag and told him to bring it back when it was full of cuttle­fish. He also suggested a few likely beaches, and Luke went off straight away to try his luck.

That had been two weeks earlier, and he’d been able to survive, but only just. One day he’d managed to fill two bags with the dried-out cuttlefish bone lying on the beaches and he’d bought a small packet of cigarettes, which had made him feel almost human again. Usually he was lucky to fill one bag, and half the money had to go in the petrol tank. He tried to vary his diet; mostly it was either baked beans or sardines, as well as bread. A loaf of bread lasted a couple of days if he was careful. He was always hungry though, and always depressed. The only person he really spoke to was Big Al, which didn’t exactly ease his depression. He knew if he told Al his life wasn’t worth living, Al would not only agree, but list all the reasons why his own was so much worse.

The brown dog followed Luke down the beach, bounding here and there to check out interesting smells, and rushing to the water only to back off when the waves covered his feet.

‘Chicken!’ Luke laughed. ‘It’s only water; you could probably use a bath. Come to think of it, so could I.’ He stripped off and plunged into the waves, yelling as the impact of the cold water hit him. Then as he became used to it he relaxed and began to enjoy himself, body-surfing in with the waves. The dog barked excitedly from the shore, and then hesitantly crept in to the water. ‘Here boy!’ Luke called, and the dog swam eagerly out to him.

When they emerged, the dog shook himself vigorously and then ran around and rolled in the sand. Not having a towel handy Luke decided he had the right idea, and ran along the beach until he was warm and dry. When he’d dressed again, he felt better than he’d felt in months. Alive again. The dog was dashing back and forwards across the sand and had found a particularly fascinating pile of seaweed and driftwood. Luke strolled over to him and the dog scratched something out of the pile which rolled towards Luke. It was a glass ball.

Luke was convinced now. This dog had been sent to help him, an answer to his desperate pleas to whomever or whatever was listening. He felt on top of the world and immediately went to see Big Al, dog in tow. Then with his new-found wealth he bought a bag of dry dog food, as well as a huge bone from the butcher’s shop in the main street. He left the dog beside the car with his goodies and went shopping for his own needs. He bought a pouch of tobacco which he knew would last at least a week, a few cans of baked beans and Irish Stew for when he was broke again, and best of all, fresh meat and vegetables. There was a public barbecue nearby in the park and Luke and the dog feasted on steak, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. Neither of them could remember when they’d had a better meal.

That night the dog slept on the front seat of the car, with Luke on the back seat. The car stank of cuttlefish, which was always carried in the boot, and Luke had sprinkled curry powder everywhere in an effort to improve the smell. It now smelt like curried cuttlefish, but that was a slight improvement. The dog sneezed several times, but then went to sleep happily enough. The following morning brought rain, but nothing could dampen their spirits. They ran down the beach in the rain and then ran back to the car, shivering. Luke changed his clothes in the car, and left the dog outside to shake himself dry under a tree. Having declared the day a holiday Luke drove around for a while, looking for somewhere that would provide free shelter for man and dog. Usually on rainy days he hung around the indoor shopping centres, but the dog wouldn’t be allowed there.

They were strolling along under the verandahs of the main street when the dog stopped in the doorway of a bakery, drinking in the wonderful aromas. Luke smiled. ‘Yes, there’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread, is there boy?’ Then he noticed the sign in the window: Help Wanted. Accommodation Provided. Leaving the dog outside, he entered the shop and approached the middle-aged woman at the counter.

‘Hi, I was wondering about your “help wanted” sign?’

‘Yes dear, have you ever worked in a shop? Do you know how to use a cash register?’

‘Oh sure,’ Luke lied, ‘I used to work in a supermarket.’ He had in fact spent a week once helping in his uncle’s fish-shop and was reasonably confident he could work the register.

Mrs Thomson showed him the room upstairs which was large and comfortably furnished. There was a ceiling fan above the bed, a big sliding window with a view of the beach, and a desk with a portable TV. There was also a little kitchenette area and a door leading to a tiny but scrupulously clean bathroom. Luke felt like he’d died and gone to Heaven. And it was all thanks to the brown dog. He was going to be one spoilt mutt. Mrs Thomson was still talking, and Luke tuned in again. ‘Of course health regulations mean you can’t have pets here, but I don’t suppose you have any, do you?’

‘Pardon? I’m sorry Mrs Thomson, what did you say?’

‘No pets dear. You can’t have pets here.’

‘Oh. I see … no, that won’t be a problem.’

‘That’s good, only I saw a dog out the front when you came in and I wondered ….’

‘No, it’s not my dog.’

‘Just sniffing around the bakery then, we get a lot of strays.’

Luke agreed to start work the next day and Mrs Thomson said he could get his things and move in right away.

Sitting on the beach where he had first met the brown dog Luke tried to explain the situation to him. ‘I’ll come and look for you every day after work. You can hang around here and sleep on the beach. It’s not that cold. I’ll bring you meat pies and cream cakes.’

The dog just looked at him, his brown eyes reproachful and all-knowing. ‘Oh dog, what can I do? They won’t let you stay there. I’m sorry.’ He walked away and left the dog sitting alone on the beach right where they’d found each other. He sat in the car and put his head on the steering wheel, a lump in his throat. Then he sat upright. ‘No, dammit! I won’t do it. It’s like selling my soul. I’ll find some other job.’ He ran back to the beach calling out to the dog. The beach was empty, except for a stray sea-gull foraging amongst the shells. He ran along, whistling and calling. For an hour he wandered the beach.

The brown dog was gone.

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Free Short Stories

My short story collection, Connections, is free on Amazon until October 31st. If you’ve read a previous version this one does have those stories in as well as several new ones. I’m posting a few excerpts to pique your interest in the hope you’ll download your free copy and then write a fabulous 5 star review on Amazon for me! You might not like all the stories but you’ll almost certainly like one–they’re all very different.  And if you like one I’ll be happy for you to review the one you like.

I’m rather pleased with the cover on this one. It’s a photo of the Pinnacles in Western Australia and has nothing to do with any of the stories but I think it looks good. It’s an amazing place and was part of an amazing holiday hubby and I took a few years ago–actually part of a trip to watch our youngest son perform in a national musical theatre competition. He won of course and it was our first time in Western Australia so it was just fantastic.

THE RUNT OF THE LITTER

© Christine Gardner 2013

The boy stood at the edge of the cliff, staring at the waves smashing onto the rocks far below him. His coat, handed down from his father, flapped around his ankles in the roaring wind. Hugh was small for twelve and an onlooker would think he was in grave danger of losing his footing and slipping over the edge at any moment, but he was accustomed to the wind and had stood in this same spot far too many times since the death of his father four years earlier.

Before his father’s death, Hugh and his sister and brothers would never go anywhere near the cliff top; their father built a wall of rocks to keep his children and his sheep safe from the dangerous precipice. Since his death the wall had crumbled somewhat from the harsh and icy winds raging across the Atlantic Ocean and the cliff top had become a sanctuary of sorts for Hugh; a place of quiet isolation. Away from his stepfather.

THE COLD TRUTH

© Christine Gardner 2013

The water was dark and cold and she wore a strapless gown of pure silk—white with pearls sewn onto the bodice. She could feel the icy water up to her knees and she clung to him, trying to draw on his strength and calm.

He was dressed in a tuxedo and, at last noticing her shivering, he took off his jacket and helped her into it; she held her arms out like a child and she looked childlike as she stood there, tiny and trembling in the man’s jacket.

GOING HOME

© Christine Gardner 2013

“Get the hell out then!” she screamed at me through the screen door. So much for worrying about the neighbours. That was another ‘home’ I’d lost, the third in as many months. This one had lasted exactly two weeks; two weeks of tip-toeing around the house so as not to disturb the ‘man of the house’ who worked nights, and trying to avoid his blatant advances when he was awake.

Of course the landlady didn’t believe me; she was a lot like my mother that woman. All that stand by your man shit; all very well, but did they have to be deaf, dumb and blind?

INDEPENDENCE DAY

©Christine Gardner 2013

I’d been driving along the dirt track for about an hour when the noise started—sort of a regular clunk, clunk, clunk. I ignored it for five minutes, having a long-standing theory that most unwanted noises will go away by themselves if only they remain unacknowledged. It is, I admit, an as yet unproven theory and was not to prove itself on this particular occasion. I then decided I must have picked up something on one of the tyres, which would of course eventually drop off without any interference on my part. When the shrieking noise began, somewhere under the bonnet, I had to rethink that idea; I would have thought of a perfectly reasonable explanation for that too if only the car hadn’t then just stopped.

A PERFECT STRANGER

© Christine Gardner 2013

“So you risked your life for a perfect stranger?” She smiled at the camera and managed a look of astonishment for Harry’s heroism.

“Dunno about perfect,” someone in the crowd muttered.

“Pardon?” said the blonde.

“Wouldn’t say old Dick was perfect.”

HELPING OUT

©Christine Gardner 2013

I think a lot these days; not much else to do really. I like to think about the old days; stands to reason I suppose. I was a child after all; life must have been easy mustn’t it? I can’t recall any time when my life was all that easy. My childhood?  Well some of it was easy enough but it certainly was never any golden age of happiness and innocence. My family wasn’t much like a TV family.

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

A young man stood at the door, car keys dangling in his hand. He smiled, showing sparkling white teeth; he was well dressed and nice-looking, with neatly trimmed hair. So Lorna ignored the little niggling warning bell in her brain and said of course he could come in and use the phone. His car had broken down a kilometre away and hers was the first house he’d come across.

THE COST OF PEARLS

A dreadlocked head emerged from beneath the wildly coloured quilt. “I did?” The girl was sixteen and as emaciated as a model; heroin chic for real. She looked as if she hadn’t had either a shower or a change of clothes for at least a month; in fact it had been six weeks. Flora had been unable to persuade her to do either the previous night. She had only managed to put her to bed and remove her shoes. She would just have to wash the sheets today, that was all.

 

 Connections 99c at Amazon

 


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Having a break from murder . . .

I’ve been writing short stories lately, after spending the last few years on true crime and novels, and rather enjoying the change. For some reason though, my creative thoughts keep turning to murder. Those of you who’ve looked at my book list may not find that so strange but the beauty of writing short stories is the variety and I don’t want to get stuck on the one genre.

‘A Twist in the Tail’ is a step away from that then and, since I have nothing to write about today, I thought you might like to read a little tale.

A Twist in the Tail

© Christine Gardner

Shelley sprawled her lithe body on the black rock, trailing the fingers of one hand in the waves as they caressed the shore. It was a glorious spring day and she stretched luxuriously and arched her body, her naked pert breasts pointing skywards.

She smiled secretly to herself. They would all be watching, she was well aware. And Daniel would pretend to be cross at her public display but she knew he was proud of her and pleased that everyone envied him. He was the most handsome of all the guys and they were the undisputed leading couple at the school.

She’d known Daniel pretty much all her life and had always known they were destined to be together, but it wasn’t until they hit puberty that they became a couple. Their relationship developed from friendly flirting to secret kisses and at last to passionate lovemaking. Both sets of parents were happy with the pairing and, since they’d waited until they were both sixteen before their first sexual encounter, had no problem at all with their connection.

Daniel was like the other half of Shelley; everything about him was the opposite of her. His hair was black like the rocks here at their favourite bay and his eyes, she told him, were like the ocean on a stormy day—green and grey and somehow changeable. His temperament was serene and not at all like the stormy sea, while Shelley could be, she admitted, somewhat tempestuous.

Shelley, Daniel said, had eyes as blue as the ocean on a calm summer’s day, and her hair, which was silky and fell to below her waist, was the colour of the white sand on the beach. Together they were complete; together they had everything.BookCoverImageconnections

Today was a special day. Daniel didn’t know yet but he and Shelley would be leaving the school—leaving their friends behind. She stroked her flat stomach, smiling her secret smile. When a girl became pregnant she and her partner had to join the family group and they’d see little of their old friends at the school until, each in turn, they would also join the family group.

Shelley and Daniel would no longer be the unofficial king and queen at the school but Shelley was looking forward to becoming a mother and she knew Daniel would make a great father. He had a lot more patience than she did.

She sat up at last. Daniel would be thrilled with her news and she suddenly couldn’t wait a minute longer to tell him he was going to be a daddy. She turned around to face the ocean and slid into the water. Gracefully she dove under the waves, swimming well underneath the white surf, and the cool water was welcome after the warmth of the sun.

Daniel and the rest of the school had watched her enter the water. He smiled, relieved; she tended to overdo the sun at times.

When she reached the group she emerged from the waves with a joyful jump into the air and the others joined in, playing like dolphins and showing off their blue-green tails, sparkling in the sunshine. None of the school noticed when Shelley took Daniel by the hand and led him away to their secret place to tell him her news. It was time for the school to find new leaders and time for Daniel and Shelley to join the family group and nurture their own little mermaids.

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