Love and Marriage

wedding day

What could I write on the subject of weddings that hadn’t already been said? I had an idea to write from the point of view of a bride who was about to be married in very unusual circumstances…

The Wedding Day

My name is Park Hye-jin and today is my wedding day. I woke early, my stomach full of butterflies and opened the curtains in the hotel to be greeted by a city cloaked in smog. No matter, I thought, as I won’t be outside much today anyway. I unzipped the cover on my wedding dress and admired the intricate beading around the bodice and the simple lines of the dress. It is beautiful and suits me perfectly. A mischievous idea not my own pops into my mind, “What a shame you won’t be noticed today of all days.” I shake my head as if to dislodge the thought. It is my special day and I am more than happy to share it with my brothers and sisters.

I met my fiance two days ago in the hotel lobby. The True Mother has selected him as my husband and I trust her judgement in all things. We were chaperoned by one of the True Mother’s marriage representatives as she was too busy organizing the wedding day. My fiance’s name is Rodrigo and he is Brazilian. He has shoulder length dark hair, a nice smile and smells of coconut. I do not speak Portuguese and he cannot speak Korean so we smiled and nodded, not understanding a word of what was being said. Our chaperone was Japanese, with a few words of my language, so I was able to comprehend more than Rodrigo about the details of our wedding day. As the Church doesn’t advocate marrying someone you’ve never met before, we have spent some time together, with the chaperone keeping a discreet distance. From Rodrigo’s biography, I know that he was an insurance salesman but now works for the Church in Sao Paolo. He plays the guitar and writes songs in his spare time. Rodrigo will know that I worked for a fashion house before converting and I now work in the Church’s marketing department in Seoul. What my biography won’t tell him is that my parents were unhappy with my choice and have not spoken to me in three years. I am not sad about this as the Church is my family now and it has given me a new life and a handsome husband.

Our happy day will be tinged with sadness in that the True Father will not be with us to celebrate our union. It is almost six months since he passed and I miss him every day. He was the Messiah and the reason why so many of us joined the Church, giving us purpose after being lost in a lonely wilderness for so long.

I apply my make-up and arrange my hair simply but elegantly, then carefully step in my wedding dress. I place the silk scarf around my neck and flex my fingers in the lace gloves I slip onto my hands. I stand in front of the floor length mirror and smile shyly at the virginal bride who returns my gaze.

On the cab ride to the wedding venue, I fiddle with the bouquet, my palms clammy from the humidity and nerves. I will meet Rodrigo there and calm myself by thinking of his kind smile and wondering if he will write a song for me as a wedding gift.

The cab drops me a the stadium and there are so many people waiting outside. I have arranged to meet Rodrigo by the southern entrance so make my way there. My heart leaps as I spot him looking so handsome in his tuxedo. I rush up to him and he kisses me on the cheek. Then he holds my hands and steps back to regard me properly. “Beleza!”, he says, grinning and showing his fine, white teeth, so I know this is a good word and he is pleased with me.

We wait in a large room and I grasp Rodrigo’s hand to help settle my nerves. All of a sudden there is movement and we are ushered through a tunnel which leads into the stadium where we are met by rapturous applause. This is the first mass wedding ceremony since the True Father, Reverend Moon, passed and seven thousand people of all nationalities have travelled here to be joined together as man and wife in the eyes of the Unification Church. We will honor him by being happy, working hard to make our marriage last and raising our children in the True Faith.

Beardy Weirdy

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Beards. Love them or hate them, they’re everywhere at the moment. Achingly fashionable hipsters have them so they must be cool. Damn, even George Clooney has been seen wearing face fuzz! This story is about an unusual phobia, the fear of facial hair.

Pogonophobia

My name is Claire and I have an irrational fear of beards. There I’ve said it, now go ahead and laugh like everyone else. I know it’s peculiar but that’s the thing about phobias; you can’t explain where they come from.

Growing up in the 70s was difficult when long hair was fashionable and if a man didn’t have a beard, he’d at least have a porn star moustache or huge mutton chop sideburns. To this day I can’t hear “I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day” without feeling a little panicky remembering Roy Wood’s long, frazzled beard on the Christmas Top of the Pops. I don’t recall what he actually looked like but that beard haunts my dreams around the festive season.

I’ve pondered at length about where the fear might have originated. Was I spooked by a hirsute well-wisher looming over my pram? Did I confuse bearded men with the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood? Certainly when I watched the film Company of Wolves when I was a teenager, I became very distrustful of men whose eyebrows met in the middle. I’m sure that’s why I’ve never fancied Liam Gallagher.

The 80s weren’t much better for someone with my unusual phobia. Beards weren’t fashionable but designer stubble was. As well as suit jacket sleeves rolled up to the elbow and eye-searingly bright colours, cultivating a time-consuming unshaven look was considered cool. Just think George Michael. My first few halting encounters with the opposite sex were marred by prickly facial hair (theirs, not mine, I hasten to add) and I tried to persuade myself that they weren’t really beards but who was I trying to kid?

Halcyon years followed as beards became unfashionable again. Goatees threatened to become popular until everyone realised how ridiculous they looked. I had my pick of clean-shaven men, fell in love and married one of them and settled down to live happily ever after. Sadly, a fairytale ending wasn’t to be when I discovered that my husband didn’t believe in monogamy and was still sowing his wild oats far and wide.

This left me not-so-young, free and single in my late thirties. It was extremely daunting getting back in the dating saddle, so to speak, but there were still some men out there. Older, not necessarily wiser, and with a lot more emotional baggage but they were willing to keep playing the dating game. Then disaster struck and it was all Jeremy Paxman’s fault.

Paxo grew a beard and it was all over social media. He was even nominated for “Beard of the Year” by the Beard Liberation Front, if you can believe such a thing. Although he is about as far away from being a style icon as you can get, this act of laziness seems to have been the catalyst for other men to follow suit. I knew I was in trouble when I noticed that young, bearded men were being used to advertise stuff on TV as if it was perfectly normal! Beards were suddenly everywhere just as I was taking the first tentative steps in my search for love.

I was invited to a dinner party by my old friend, Sarah. She explained that her husband’s friend, Matt, would be there to make up numbers but it wasn’t a set-up. Not at all. I laughingly accepted, looking forward to an evening of good food and wicked gossip.

I arrived at Sarah and Dave’s promptly and could hear laughter as I rang the doorbell. Dave answered the door and ushered me through to the lounge. There stood Matt, tall and good looking but for one major flaw. He had a beard. As the evening progressed I realised I liked him. A lot. He was funny and had a lovely smile. He would have been perfect if not for the facial hair.

Matt and I exchanged numbers at the end of the evening and I spent a couple of days alternating between hoping that he would and wouldn’t call. On the one hand he was attractive, funny and charming and on the other hand he had a beard! He eventually did make contact and we arranged to go out for dinner. I decided that I would be honest and explain about my phobia as early as possible and address the issue.

We’d chosen to meet at a curry house, both trying to pretend this wasn’t a “date” date and that we hadn’t made such an obvious connection. I was shown to a table where someone was already sitting. I turned to the waiter in confusion, about to explain that there’d been a mistake, when Matt stood up and greeted me warmly. I did a double take; the beard had gone! I stood open mouthed as Matt explained, “When Sarah said you didn’t like beards, I didn’t realise that meant you have a phobia of them.” I realised that my goldfish impersonation made me look like the village idiot so closed my mouth. “I fancied a change and I’m sure those new fangled moisturisers will help me cope with the shaving rash.” He smiled his lovely, non-beardy smile.

Better the Devil You Know

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What’s in a name? I had fun with this one finding alternative names for you know who, some are familiar but most are not.

Is It Done?

My name is Pazal and I’m a devil. Not in a Jack-the-lad, wrong side of the tracks, euphemistic kind of way but a real life demon; one of Hell’s foot soldiers. If Old Nick is the Godfather, then I’m one of the Goodfellas.

Being a lowly fiend, my workload is quite run-of-the-mill and involves collecting souls from those humans who have signed a pact with Mephistopheles. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as the rich and famous are used to getting their own way and think they can wriggle out of the deal in their dying moments. My job is to make sure they don’t escape and to drag them to Hell, literally kicking and screaming if that’s what it takes.

The excuses have to be heard to be believed, but the lamest, most used one is mistaken identity. “You’ve got the wrong man”, they cry. “I’d never sign my soul away for fame and fortune”, wail untalented pop stars whose vocals sound like mating foxes. “I’d never risk an opportunity to get to heaven”, this from people who choose underage groupies for their sexual gratification. Then the tears start and that’s my favourite bit; unnaturally perfect faces become blotchy and smeared with snot. Why they think emotional blackmail will work on a demon, I’ll never know.

I was called into Beelzebub’s office the other day, hoping for promotion but fearing admonition as he can be a tad mercurial. I’ve been escorting bartered souls for hundreds of years and have a hankering to be elevated to incubus. On the other hand, I don’t want to be torturing souls for all eternity. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of opportunity for invention but I’d miss being topside. Humans have such capacity for love but spend so much time discovering ways to make each other miserable. Their lives are over in the blink of an eye so you’d have thought they’d forget about being petty and enjoy themselves. It’s all so entertaining.

“Ah, Pazal. Come on in.” I approached the ebony desk and stood before the Lord of the Flies. “You’ve been doing sterling work capturing souls but I thought it was high time you had a chance to flex your muscles and show me what you’re really made of.” I unfurled my wings slightly and stood up straighter. Promotion here I come.

Well, that really wasn’t what I was expecting. Not at all. The Prince of Darkness has asked me to accompany him on a mission, to be his wingman you could say. He has thousands of followers, most of whom he has little time for, disdainfully calling them goat killers. The way they take themselves so seriously, performing Black Masses and invoking his name, really makes him chuckle. However, one group has piqued his interest and that’s where I come in. Lucifer has always had an eye for the ladies and in a change from the usual arrangement, someone has offered his wife in exchange for fame and fortune. Cowardly and caddish is something we like down here so a deal was struck.

Now, the wife is an innocent and unaware of this pact. She’s also very beautiful which no doubt sweetened the deal for the Fallen Angel, bearing in mind it’s not her soul he’s after, if you catch my drift.

The chosen night arrives and we sit quietly in the Son of Perdition’s office while the ceremony is performed, waiting for the moment when we’ll go above ground. Belial is a handsome man but he likes to conform to human expectations, so is sporting his Satan™ look; think Tim Curry in Legend, except his horns are bigger.

The Satanists have just sacrificed a goat so the floor is crimson and sticky with blood everywhere. That’s our cue. The Lord of the Flies materialises in front of his congregation, towering above them, glowing red with a backdrop of fire and dry ice. He is a magnificent showman and most people look terrified, a few of them faint and one even soils himself. An excellent result and I’d expect nothing less.

All eyes are on Abaddon so no-one notices as I move towards the unconscious woman. She is classically beautiful with a pink flush to her cheeks and perfect bone structure. My lord and master has chosen well for the mother of his child. As I gaze upon her perfect countenance, her eyelids flicker and open and I am looking into the most mesmerising blue eyes I’ve ever seen. “Who the hell are you?” she demands, struggling to sit upright and breaking my reverie. This wasn’t supposed to happen and I’m a little dumbstruck. I cast a glance over my shoulder and am relieved that no-one has noticed us yet.

“I’m Pazal and you are guest of honour tonight. You must sleep, don’t you feel tired?” I say, wondering why the drug her neighbours administered hasn’t worked. “Minnie gave me a drink but I don’t remember anything else until I woke up just now. What’s going on over there?” I block her view as she tries to look past me but she gives me a shove and her eyes widen in her porcelain face as she beholds El Diablo. “Is this some sort of fancy dress party? Your outfit is very good.” She reaches out to pull what she thinks is a mask and tweaks my nose instead. “First class prosthetics. I have a friend who does make-up on films and she’d be very impressed.” She hops off the bed and moves around me, nodding appreciatively at my wings and running her fingers along my tail.

“So, what’s the occasion? Why is everyone dressed up?” I notice that the rumbling sound you didn’t so much hear as feel deep in your chest has stopped and, without turning, know that everyone is looking at us.

“WHY IS SHE AWAKE?” the Father of Lies demands in his booming voice.

“Oh, is that an animatronic? It’s very convincing. Who’s doing the voice? Are they behind a curtain like the Great and Powerful Oz?” She approaches the King of Tyrus and tugs at his hoof. “Wow, someone has spent a pretty penny on this lot! Is it a really cool graduation party?”

“Rosie, don’t you understand, this is all for you,” Minnie says as she tries to pull her away from behind Samael’s robe. “But it’s not my birthday,” exclaims Rosie as a tiny frown creases her alabaster brow.

“No, you’ve been selected to be the mother of a very special child,” Minnie explains in soft tones.

“Oh, but I’m not ready to have kids yet. I’ve only been married a short while.”

“Guy has made a pact with the Devil and in return for him becoming a famous movie star, you will become the mother to the Antichrist.”

“I don’t think so,” splutters Rosie.

“But you don’t have a choice, Rosemary, the pact has been signed in blood and is now binding,” Minnie’s tone is becoming harsher.

“I should have listened to my mother, she said never trust an actor. Handsome he may be but he’s as vain as the day is long. How dare he do this to me!” Rosie turns to address the Evil One, “Now you listen to me.”

“YOU CAN’T …”

“No interruptions, Mister. This pact isn’t between you and me, it’s between you and the scumbag I married and as you haven’t made him famous yet, as far as I see it you can’t hold me to anything.”

“BUT …”

“As I have no intention of going through with this then you’ll need to discuss it with my worthless, low-life weasel of a husband.”

“WAIT …”

Rosie turns on her heel, strides across the room and out of the Castavet’s apartment.

“Is it done?” asks one of the Satanists who fainted and has just come round. His question is greeted with a resounding silence and some very bemused looks.

Choices, choices

daffodil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all know the feeling; to snooze or not to snooze? That gave me the idea for this story which is about how one decision can make all the difference to a single day …

Two April Mornings

Chris Evans shocked Sian awake at 6.50am. She’d been having a lovely dream involving Bradley Cooper on a beach but it slipped away as she started to surfaced. Wondering how someone who must get up in the middle of the night to present the breakfast show could sound so cheerful, she hit the snooze button and rolled over. The forecast was for another cold, rainy day so ten more minutes in her warm bed wouldn’t make any difference.

 

A shaft of sunlight crept across Sian’s pillow and shone directly into her eyes. Not used to being woken naturally, she lay for a moment listening to the dawn chorus and picked out a robin’s liquid song. Peering at the clock she read the time as 6.03am. Too early but now wide awake, she couldn’t think of any reason not to get up. She hopped out of bed then felt around with her toes for the flip flops she used as slippers, shrugged her dressing gown on and, with a large flourish, opened the curtains. The sun had only just risen but she could tell it was going to be a beautiful spring day.

 

Ian Broudie’s vocals woke Sian from her slumber a second time. She liked the Lightning Seeds so decided she would definitely get up once this song had finished. Perversely, she always set her alarm early to factor in several snoozes, as she really wasn’t a morning person. Sian made a deal with herself that when Chris Evans started talking again she’d get up, but he’d probably gone for a “comfort break”, as the Americans coyly phrase it, as Sense morphed seamlessly into Heaven. She loved this one so extended her pact and sang along with Emeli Sande in her head, really going for it on the chorus.

 

Afforded extra time by such an early start, Sian decided to make proper coffee, usually only a weekend treat. As the percolator burbled and gurgled to itself, she checked her phone and answered a couple of emails while absentmindedly putting bread in the toaster. The smell of cinnamon from the flavoured coffee wafted around the small, brightly lit kitchen as her black and white cat weaved and threaded himself around Sian’s ankles. Only when Bertie reached up and embedded his claws in her thigh, did she put the phone aside to feed him. Taking a moment to marvel at how he could purr and inhale food simultaneously, she then turned her attention to the recently ejected toast and, slathering it with butter and orange marmalade, sat down to eat.

 

After a record three favourite songs in a row, Sian was now running late. She trotted barefoot to the bathroom, closing the door on Bertie who scratched at the carpet in hungry frustration. Not having time to dry her hair, she scraped it into a severe bun then dressed quickly in a white shirt and charcoal grey trouser suit. Pausing only to feed Bertie and down a glass of water, she grabbed her coat and umbrella, slammed the door to her flat and dashed out into the grey morning.

 

Savouring the last of her coffee, Sian stood at the sink and looked out at the pristine day. The recent wet spell had washed everything clean, grass glowed with a vitality only seen at this time of year and the early morning light made everything sparkle. Uplifted by the prospect of a perfect day, Sian flip-flopped to the bathroom, joined by Bertie who sat on the toilet seat and kept her company while she showered. She exfoliated using a range of expensive, delicately scented products then washed her hair with an exotic guava and lime shampoo. Wearing a towel turban, Sian padded back to her bedroom where she rubbed fruit fragranced body butter into her shower-soft skin, then dried her dark hair and, on a whim, curled it into ringlets. A summer dress with tiny violets scattered across it were matched with mauve ballet pumps and the ensemble was completed by a pair of oversized sunglasses and a lightweight cardigan. Sian left for work earlier than she ever had before, humming Tom’s Diner which had been the last song of that morning’s hat trick.

 

Struggling to keep her umbrella from turning inside out, Sian hurried to the bus stop. As she reached the end of her road, she saw the number 6 glide past. Just her luck that it hadn’t been delayed by a few too many red traffic lights today. Decision time. Wait another twenty minutes for the next bus, walk the whole way and get to work looking like a drowned rat or try and hail a taxi. Just then the number 3 pulled up at her stop and she quickly calculated that she could take it as far as the city centre and hop off before it disappeared off towards the hospital. She climbed aboard trying not to spray the driver with raindrops as she folded her umbrella while also fumbling for her bus pass.

 

With time on her side, Sian decided to walk along the river and savour the dazzling morning. Daffodils bobbed their heads in the light breeze and ducks sat in small groups on the riverbank, keeping a beady eye out for danger. Weeping willows were coming into bud, daisies raised their little faces to the sun and catkins trembled. New life burgeoned everywhere she looked, from bumblebees collecting pollen to a moorhen sitting on her nest. Despite ambling as slowly as possible and pausing frequently to soak it all in, Sian still reached the gallery far too quickly.

 

Sian pressed the bell as they approached her stop and the bus halted abruptly, almost making her lose her balance. As the doors opened, a gust of wind propelled rain in her face and she decided against trying to open her umbrella as she wasn’t sure she’d win the battle. Head down, shoulders hunched and fists jammed into her coat pockets, Sian walked briskly towards the gallery.

 

As Sian unlocked the door and entered the gallery, a bell tinkled above her head. Her first job was to put the kettle on then check emails to see if there were any changes to today’s plans. Half an hour later Angus arrived, rushed up to her and put a hand on her brow, “My dear, are you alright? I was worried that you might be feverish.”

“No, I’m fine thanks.”

“It’s just I’ve never known you be this early before.”

“Ha ha, very funny. My ribs are aching from laughing so much,” Sian deadpanned. “Would you like a coffee?” she called over her shoulder as she headed to the kitchen.

“You must be delirious, my dear. In early and offering me a hot beverage.”

“You may own this gallery but that doesn’t give you an excuse to be rude to me.”

“Rude, my dear? Never! Only pulling your leg a teeny bit. A little gentle joshing between comrades. Merely a spot of idle banter to liven the day.”

 

Sian rushed through the door and the bell jangled to announce her arrival.

“Late again, my dear. If I was a proper boss, I’d be obliged to give you a warning or dock your pay or something equally tedious,” Angus said, without looking up from the laptop.

“Sorry Angus, it won’t happen again.”

“Don’t be silly, my girl, it happens at least twice a week. Now, your penance is to venture forth and procure two large lattes and a selection of delectable sweetmeats in an attempt and lift our spirits on such a dreary day. Your treat.”

Sian gave him a tight smile, turned on her heel and walked back out into the rain.

 

Putting his mug of coffee in front of him, Sian broke the news, “John Barber isn’t coming in this afternoon.”

“Oh, how tiresome. Now when are we supposed to find time to organise his exhibition?” Angus clicked on the calendar icon on the laptop and started scrolling through dates.

“No, he’s coming in this morning as he’s travelling to Rotterdam later.”

“Naughty girl,” Angus admonished. “Don’t shock me like that, it’s unkind.”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.”

“What time should we expect him?”

“He was a bit vague but definitely before lunch.”

 

Sian backed into the gallery, holding the coffees and with a bag of Danish dangling from her arm.

“My dear, where have you been? Mr Barber and I have been waiting an age for refreshments.”

“I’m sorry, the queue was horrendous. It must be the weather.”

As Angus approached her to relieve her of the coffee, Sian hissed, “I didn’t think he was due until this afternoon?”

“Change of plan, my dear. Put those pastries on a plate, if you would be so kind.”

Angus handed one of the cardboard cups to a fair haired man and started to sip from the other. They moved out of her earshot so she picked up the phone to chase the stationery order which should have arrived yesterday.

 

The bell tinkled and Sian stepped out of the kitchen just in time to see John Barber, artist of the moment, framed in the doorway with a halo of sunlight around him. With tousled blond hair and rather short in stature, he wasn’t conventionally handsome but had an undeniable sex appeal which he wore like a casual jacket.

“Hello, Mr Barber, very pleased to meet you. I’ll just introduce you to Angus Rutherford.”

“Hello, and you are …?”

“I’m Sian, we spoke on the phone. I don’t want to sound like a stalker but I’m a huge fan of your work.”

Having conducted introductions, Sian made a move towards the kitchen to make coffee.

“Please, wait a mo. Angus, do you mind if Sian joins us? I’d like her opinion as she’s an expert on my work, apparently,” John winked at her.

Angus paused, “Well, I don’t see why not. The girl must have gleaned something in her short time here. My dear, go and fetch the photocopies of the exhibition paintings and you can enlighten us as to what should go where.”

Stormy Sea

Water, water, everywhere

The idea for this story began when we tried to encourage a bee to leave the studio where we hold our regular writing group meetings. It was very reluctant but we managed it and then came up with the idea of using letters of the alphabet as the inspiration for our stories. B for bee, C for sea, etc, so I used the opportunity to write a dark story about being trapped and yearning for something you can’t have.

The Sea

A sad woman stares unseeingly out of a window onto a vista of grey. The sky and sea are formed from the same colour and blend into one another. A fishing boat looks like it is flying and gulls seem to float on the water.

The winter’s afternoon is turning imperceptibly to dusk as Shona waits for her husband to return from his latest fishing trip. Her heart yearns for him to have been swallowed by the inky depths, air in his lungs replaced by icy water; a sacrificial offering to the sea and his pale, lifeless body washed up on a lonely shore. However, her head knows that if Douglas drowns, she will be trapped forever, unable to return to the sea.

Shona realises that she should be using the time she is on her own in the cottage to search for that which has been stolen from her but is overwhelmed by listlessness. She has looked everywhere in and around the small dwelling so now suspects that he has hidden it elsewhere, probably buried deep in the earth to rot and moulder.

She has been a good, obedient wife to this man she doesn’t love, who tricked her into remaining with him on this desolate island. She is thankful that no children were born of their marriage as it would have broken her heart to have left them behind. She knows the island women gossip about her dark looks and stare when she goes into the village but doesn’t care. She has nothing in common with them and their dull lives.

The light has quickly fled the sky so Shona turns from her ghostlike reflection in the darkened window and makes her way by firelight towards the mantelpiece. Once there she lights a candle and is about to head towards her rocking chair when something catches her eye; a deeper shadow cast from the flickering light. She holds the candle closer and realises that a sliver of wood stands proud on the wall next to the chimney breast. She prises the piece loose and tucked into the nook is a small silver key. Picking it up, she places it on her palm and muses over her discovery.

She is sure that this key will unlock the hiding place of her property and is filled with a sudden sense of urgency. Her mind is racing but she forces herself to calm down and think clearly. Shona knows the cottage and its environs well, having lived there for over five years, so she is almost certain she hasn’t overlooked anywhere. Almost.

Shona lights a storm lantern, throws a cloak around her shoulders and goes outside into the cold, still night. Moving methodically, she works her way around the cottage looking for anything out of the ordinary. Just as she is about to start her third circuit, Shona notices that one of the timbers near the ground looks thicker than the others and reaches down to investigate. Placing the lantern on the ground, she pulls at the plank until it shifts and reveals a keyhole. She clenches her teeth at the realisation that Douglas had hidden it right under her nose. He must have been laughing at her behind her back all these years.

She holds her breath as she turns the key and only when she hears the click does she start breathing again. A small door opens to reveal a gap containing what looks like a fur coat. Her eyes fill with tears as she grasps the sealskin and runs her fingers through the thick fur.

Although Shona becomes human on land, she is in fact a selkie and her true form is that of a seal. Douglas was captivated by her when they first met and she liked the attention from such a handsome man. However, his desire to own her made him behave cruelly and one night he plied her with mead then stole her skin and hid it away. Without her sealskin, she would never be able to return to her former life and she had no choice but to marry her captor.

She gathers the skin in her arms, walks purposefully to the shore then gently places it on the sand. Removing her clothes, she lies down and wraps the skin around her. Within moments she has transformed into a beautiful seal, sleek and with dark, liquid eyes. Shona hitches herself into the surf, relishing the cold saltiness washing over her fur, then dives into the dark water without a backward glance.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Bad Hair Day

The temple thronged with women waiting patiently in the stifling heat. Some were crying silently but most waited with a stoic expression etched on their faces.

Keshika tried not to caress her beautiful, waist-length hair and instead gazed at her perfect daughter playing with a feather on the floor of the temple. Akuti was her miracle, born eight years after her marriage, when she had given up hope of ever having a child. Her husband loved her but she knew that he yearned for children and the thought of not being able to provide him with a baby almost broke her heart.

Keshika and Akuti had travelled for two days to reach the temple at Tirumala in the hills of Andhra Pradesh so that Keshika could make a sacrifice to Lord Venkateswara who had answered her prayers. They had travelled by train from their small village, enduring cramped conditions with many other pilgrims, being lulled to sleep by the rocking motion of the carriage and trying to work out who smelt worse, an old woman or her goat. It was only Keshika’s second time on a train and Akuti’s first trip and they were lucky enough to get a seat near the window so were able to glimpse the countryside change and grow more verdant as the train crawled up into the hills.

They disembarked at Tirupati and then walked the remaining sixteen miles to the temple. There was a festival atmosphere as they walked along with many other women and the closer they got to their destination, the more excited everyone became. Akuti walked a good part of the way, with Keshika carrying her when she grew tired and unable to pick up her feet. When they finally saw the temple, its towers of white marble and gold took their breath away.

The queue moved inexorably forward and as Keshika approached the front, she could hear a scraping noise. As she reached the head of the queue she watched as an older woman walked away from the barbers, blinking and rubbing her bald head.

As Keshika took her seat, she glanced down at a basket filled with long, dark hair. Akuti started to whimper so she pulled her onto her lap as the man behind her used a cut-throat razor to expertly shave her long tresses, each clump of hair landing in the basket. The ordeal took only minutes and Keshika walked away feeling uplifted and convinced now that her debt was paid.

Candy Wilde sashayed into the Knightsbridge salon on her sky high Louboutin heels, red soles flashing as she walked and her mountainous breast implants reaching the receptionist’s desk well before she did.

“May I help you?” enquired the imperious receptionist as she looked Candy up and down with evident distaste.

Used to this kind of treatment in upmarket establishments, Candy knew how to deal with uppity types so simply demanded in her flat, estuarine accent, “If I want to talk to a monkey, I’ll go to the zoo. Now go and get me the organ grinder.”

The receptionist’s look went from a sneer to outrage. She opened her mouth to fire off a suitable retort, thought better of it then swung her waterfall of brunette hair over a shoulder and stalked off to find Xander Long.

Candy inspected her nail extensions, thinking that one of the Swarovski crystals had fallen off the fuchsia pink lacquer. It was still there but she would make an appointment to have them touched up anyway as it was almost two weeks since they’d been done. She also made a mental note to book more botox injections as she was sure she’d almost had a facial expression the previous day.

Xander Long, owner of the most prestigious hairdressing salon in London, dealt with only A-list clients personally so was reluctant to see the woman Lara, his receptionist, described as a “life sized Barbie”. Knowing Candy’s type well, he knew if Lara tried to fob her off, she would just make a scene and scare off his celebrity clients.

Xander’s first thought on seeing the woman was “You’ve been Tangoed” followed by a craving for watermelon. Candy was a startling shade of orange and would have been average height if not for the vertiginous heels she wore. Her hair was exactly the same colour as Barbie’s but cut surprisingly short.

“Mr Long, you’ve got to help me,” Candy begged before Xander had even had a chance to open his mouth.

“My stupid bitch of a hairdresser found out I was sleeping with her boyfriend and did this to me,” gesticulating at her head. “I’ve got a photo shoot for Nuts tomorrow and I can’t go looking like this. Everyone says you have the best hair extensions in London. Can you fit me in?” She looked up beseechingly with large blue eyes and fluttered her false eyelashes at him, which must have taken some effort considering the weight of them.

“I’ll see what I can do,” replied Xander, gesturing to Lara to pass him the appointment diary. He wasn’t going to turn down three grand for a full head of hair extensions, not when he had the astronomical rent to pay on the salon and a fondness for the old Bolivian Marching Powder.

“You’re lucky. We’ve had a cancellation and Jorge will be able to see you.”

Jorge’s deft hands glued Keshika’s crowning glory, now dyed blonde, onto Candy’s hair. When he had finished she exclaimed, “You’re a lifesaver!” After she’d paid on her platinum card, Candy hailed a taxi to take her to the opening of a new club where she planned to shag a footballer then sell her story to one of the tabloids.

Curiouser and curiouser

All the inspiration for my stories comes from the writing group that I attend and we had the interesting idea to use the title The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but replacing the word “dog” with whatever we wanted. This led to a variety of stories with some that rhymed (cod, frog and bog) and some that didn’t (twins, spider and old woman).

Some of you might be noticing a supernatural theme to most of my stories and this is because that’s what I read in my formative years and continue to read. Although the main character isn’t me, there are some semi-autobiographical elements in this story.

The Curious Incident of the Bog in the Night-time

A young woman drives, tapping the beat of the music out on the steering wheel and singing along. She shakes her head vigorously in time to the music and her blonde ponytail whips around, flicking each cheek in turn. It is a sultry, late summer’s day so the windows are wound down and the sun roof is open. There is a haze in the sky which she knows means it will get hotter still before the day is out. She has seen few other vehicles around and the main highlight of the journey so far was overtaking a tractor a few miles back.

Ariadne is the woman’s name. She is named after the daughter of the Cretan King Minos who was instrumental in the Minotaur’s downfall by giving Theseus a sword and a ball of thread so he could find his way out of the labyrinth. Her unusual moniker comes from her father, a well-respected expert on Ancient Greece. It could have been worse; she could have been lumbered with Persephone.

As a child, instead of fairy stories, she was lulled to sleep by myths with their fantastic tales of heroes, trials, monsters and power struggles between the gods and man. The names of the Greek gods are as familiar to her as the firemen in Trumpton, another childhood favourite.

She would lie on her back in the garden and imagine that the fluffy cumulus clouds floating above her formed the shape of the nine-headed Hydra and Medusa, with snakes for hair, instead of more benign creatures. As she grew older she realised that being told bedtime stories about Prometheus, whose punishment for creating man from clay and pinching fire from the gods was to have his liver eaten by an eagle, only for it to grow back and be pecked out again the following day, for all eternity, probably wasn’t that normal.

The song Ariadne is enjoying finishes and the tape automatically starts to play the second side. She’s so pleased she chose that option on her new car stereo as it’s such a pain to have to eject the tape and turn it over.

Now singing along to Ride on Time, Ariadne realises she’s close to her destination and glances at the map on the passenger seat. After a couple more miles, she slows down a little so as not to miss the turning, she reaches the track and steers the VW Golf onto the rutted surface.

A few hundred yards down the track, she pulls into a lay-by and turns the engine off. Ariadne gathers her equipment from the back seat, puts her baseball cap on, yanking her ponytail through the hole at the back, and starts walking. Relishing the opportunity to stretch her legs after the long car journey, she takes long strides while singing the chorus from Ride on Time. To her ears she sounds pitch perfect; to anyone else’s it could be mistaken for a high-pitched keening noise of an animal in distress. Ariadne wears a long sleeved cotton shirt and trousers despite the heat, to protect her pale skin from the fierce sun. Eventually she stops and looks out over the bog.

Studying for her MSc in Botany, Ariadne is researching sundews for her dissertation. They have long fascinated her as they look so delicate but are in fact carnivorous; they ensnare insects with sticky, sweet secretions and then slowly digest them.

Picking her way across the marshy ground, Ariadne curses her wellies for making her feet sweat. Reaching the area she’d earmarked last time she was here, she rummages in her backpack and pulls out her quadrat, the one metre square which she will use to calculate how many sundews are in the bog.

Working methodically and making careful notes, Ariadne doesn’t notice the sun moving across the sky and the light start to change. It is only when standing up to stretch that she realises she now has a giant’s shadow. Keen to find her way back to the main road before nightfall, she starts to gather her belongings together when she notices a blue glow out of the corner of her eye. Turning to look, she finds herself staring at a will-o’-the-wisp.

Ariadne knows that it is only marsh gas, not a hinkypunk or the lantern of a malevolent goblin intent on making her lose her way, but she is taken aback by its ethereal beauty. The blue ball hovers above the marsh, its light pulsing slowly. She takes a step towards it and it moves away the same distance, she repeats her move and again it retreats. She takes a step back and it advances towards her. Ariadne starts to get a strange feeling that it is sentient. While puzzling this over, she becomes aware of a low humming sound. The noise surrounds her and, to her surprise, she can feel it in the core of her, like the bass at a really loud gig.

The will-o’-the-wisp starts to drift across the bog and she feels a tug which she attempts to resist at first but when it starts to feel uncomfortable, Ariadne has no choice but to follow. Waves of elation wash over her, convincing her that she will find something wonderful if she just follows the ball. The sun gradually sets as Ariadne continues to trek through the bog.

Several days later, the farmer who owns the land adjoining the bog finds Ariadne’s car. She left the windows and sun-roof open and it has rained so the seats are soaked through. Worried that if it is found the freaks and weirdos will trample his crops again in their search for the unexplained; he fetches his tractor and tows her car next to all the others in a dilapidated barn, away from the other farm buildings, where no-one will ever find them.