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The man on the bridge

Today on my walk home from school I saw a man sitting on the bridge railing with his legs dangling over the side. I thought he must have decided to get a better look at the view. In my opinion, this bridge has one of the best views in all of Worcester; on a sunny day you can see all the way to the Malvern Hills. Except, when I got nearer I noticed that the man was crying. He was hanging on to one of the big lampposts that stick up from the railing as if he was hugging it, and he looked scared and sad and confused all at the same time.

“Hello!” I said cheerfully, and smiled my biggest, friendliest smile at him. I know technically I’m not meant to talk to strangers, but I don’t like it when people are upset and I thought maybe I could cheer him up a bit. Most of my friends find it weird when grown-ups cry, but my Mum cries a lot since Dad left so I’m used to it by now. Mum said last week that I’m the only thing in her life that makes her happy and she didn’t know what she’d do without me. I like that I can cheer her up, but it’s a big responsibility.

“Are you ok?” I asked the man. He didn’t answer, and turned his head back to look out over the river.

Usually I bring Mum a cup of tea and a Penguin bar when she’s having a bad day, but I’d already eaten my Penguin at break-time (Q: what’s a penguin’s favourite type of transport? A: a b-icicle) so I couldn’t do that.

“Would you like a hug?” I tried instead. Sometimes Mum didn’t like to talk much when she was sad either, and she’d just stay in bed all day. Those were the worst days. I rooted around in my pockets. “Or a polo?” it wasn’t quite a cup of tea or a Penguin bar, but I offered him one anyway.

He drew his head away from the post it was leaning on and looked at me again.

“You’re a good kid,” he said. Did that mean yes or no to the polo? I continued holding out the packet just in case, “Your parents must be proud of you.” he tried to smile at me, but it didn’t really work because his eyes still looked sad.

“I think so. I haven’t seen my Dad in a while though. Why are you sitting on the railings?”

“Well, I was thinking about jumping into the river,” he replied, looking at the ground now rather than at me.

“That doesn’t seem like a very good idea,” I said, “It’s really cold and it’s much too fast to swim in, I saw someone try once. Plus it’s full of fish and plants and the water’s really mucky. You might get sick.”

“I suppose you’re right,” he said, but he didn’t move off the railing.

“What are you sad about?” I asked, hoping that wasn’t too nosy.

“My wife died from cancer. I miss her so much. And I was so busy being sad that I lost my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do now… ” tears started to stream down his cheeks as he said this.

“That sounds hard,” I said. That’s what Mum used to say to me when I’d had a bad day at school or someone was mean to me. That was before, though, when she was better. I try to only tell her the best bits of my day now.

“But my Gran says if you love someone, you want them to be happy. So I don’t think your wife would want you to be sad.”

“How did you get so wise, kid?”

“Well, it’s my Gran really, not me.”

There was a short silence, then he continued: “And I found out today that I’m going to lose my house because I couldn’t pay my bills. That house is all I have left. Where am I going to live? Jan would be so disappointed in me for letting everything fall apart…”

“Well,” I said, thinking out loud, “it’s not all you have left. You still have your brain and your shoes and your toothbrush and stuff.”

The man seemed to find this very funny, and laughed so hard that yet more tears started rolling down his cheeks – happy ones this time.

“Aye kid, you’re not wrong!” he had finally managed to stop laughing, but he was still smiling. I wasn’t sure what was so funny, but I was pleased I had managed to cheer him up.

My stomach rumbled. It was nearly dinner time, and I knew mum would be starting to wonder where I was.

“Would you like to come for dinner?” I asked the man, “It’s chicken nuggets tonight.”

“I’d better not. I need to get back and figure out how I’m going to save my house. But I would like to tell your mum what a great kid she’s got, so I’ll walk you home before I go.”

And with that, he swung round and hopped off the railing onto the pavement.

“Come on then!” he said, and strode off towards the end of the bridge.

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Otis: Chapter Four

When Otis awoke he knew immediately that something was not right, even through the fog that had enveloped his brain. He tried to move, but his body felt strangely off-kilter and his limbs were stiff from lack of use. How long had he been asleep? As the fog lifted, he became more aware of his surroundings. It was then that Otis came to the awful realisation that one of his worst fears had come true: he was in a cage; imprisoned in a small white box barely big enough to turn around in, trapped behind bars made of cold metal. His stomach plummeted. His throat became scratchy and tears prickled at the corners of his eyes. Otis felt more hopeless now even than when he had been trapped in the netting. All fight gone, he lay on the hard surface of his cell and waited in resignation for whatever would come next.

What came next, it turned out, was food. It wasn’t until his cage was unlocked and a bowlful of fish was pushed into his cage that he realised just how hungry he was. It had been days since he’d eaten a proper meal.

He devoured the entire bowl of fish, and after this, Otis’s brain seemed a little less foggy. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad here. The fish had been delicious, and he hadn’t even had to catch it! But then he remembered his dad teaching him how to catch fish in the river, and how they had laughed every time Otis had missed and ended up splashing water everywhere, and an immense wave of sadness washed over him. What would his Dad be doing right now? It was hard to tell what time it was in here, because the strange white sun above him didn’t ever seem to set or rise or even move at all. Still, he knew that by now his Dad would have searched the river looking for him and would be fearing the worst. If only he could let Dad know he was ok. Otis couldn’t bear it; he curled into a ball, just like he always did when he felt sad, and tried to wrap his tail around himself like a blanket. Except… he couldn’t. A horrifying truth swept over him. It had gone. He turned this way and that in disbelief, unable to believe what he was seeing. All that remained of his tail now was a tiny, useless stump covered in white fabric, wound around in tight spirals. What had they done to him? He was suddenly aware of how strangely off-balance his body felt. His mind whirled. He relied on his tail for so much – balance, speed… how could he survive without it?

Otis: chapter three

Otis was so relieved to have been rescued from the net that he forgot to be afraid of the human, and as soon as the old man carefully placed him in the boat, curled up and went right to sleep.

He must have slept for a long time, because when Otis woke up he was sitting on a cold surface under a very bright light in a place that was entirely white. Otis had never been anywhere like this before and so had no idea that he was, in fact, on the diagnostic table of a local vet. The old man from the boat was standing next to the table, and another man who looked much more frightening in a long white coat was peering down at Otis, prodding his tail.

“Hmm,” was all that the scary man said, but tone is universal; Otis could tell that this was not a good “hmm”. Fear started to overwhelm him. All of the awful possibilities passed through his mind: zoos, cages, experiments, never seeing the river again; every horrible rumour he had ever heard from other animals on the river. His eyes darted around the room, looking for a way out. He started to run towards the edge of the shiny object he had been placed on. But it was so smooth that he struggled for grip, slipping and sliding and skidding across its surface.

”I think we’re going to need to sedate him,” the vet said, grabbing Otis by the scruff so that he could no longer do more than scrabble worthlessly against the table. Otis squeaked in fear. Why would the old man not help him? Was his earlier kindness just a trick?

Still holding Otis tight, the vet reached for a nearby syringe. Otis felt a sharp scratch on the back of his neck, a coldness seeping through his veins, and then he was asleep once more.

Writing a gender specific story for girls

Hello! My name is Iggy (not Icky or Eggy, no matter what Jason Blund tells you) and I’m nine and a half years old. I’m going to tell you the story of how I became the first ever girl in space.

It all started in the Summer holidays, when me and mum went to America to visit Aunty Shirley in Houston. We’d been to visit Aunty Shirley once before, when I was only four, and while we were there we went to the NASA Space Center (that’s how they spell ‘centre’ in America). We got to listen to a real life astronaut tell us about what space was like, and he made it sound amazing with all the stars and meteors and floating around in zero gravity. Ever since then I’ve been totally obsessed with anything to do with space, so I was really excited to go back and visit NASA again.

When we got to Aunty Shirley’s, Mum surprised me by saying she’d secretly applied for me to do a Summer course with NASA called Explorer Camps, where you get to learn all about space travel and do experiments and stuff. It would start the very next day. I couldn’t believe it! I was so excited that night that I couldn’t sleep, although that might have been the jet lag, because the time in Texas is five hours earlier than in Coventry.

The first day of Explorer Camp was a bit weird though, because it turned out I wasn’t just the only person from England, I was also the only girl.

“What’s she doing here? Girls can’t be astronauts!” I overheard one boy say in a Texan accent as I sat down nearby.

“Actually, I think you’ll find that there have been a total of 61 women in space since the first, Valentina Tereshkova, who travelled into space on Vostok 6 in 1963.” I replied, looking him dead in the eyes. I’ve done a lot of research on female astronauts. My favourite is the American Susan Kilrain because her motto is ‘Live your dream’ and she believes anyone can become an astronaut, even me.

The boy from Texas blushed, and stared down at the table. Susan Kilrain would have been proud.

Word of the Day: Mephistophelian (Episode 3 of Tales from Tinder)

“Synonyms for mephistophelian,” she typed into Google, having to flick back to the open WordPress tab to check the spelling at least five times in the process. Before she could look at the possible alternatives however, her phone buzzed. It was Tinder.

Pingu sent you a new message.

“Noot noot!”

Ok, I’ll play, she thought.

“How’s the weather in the North Pole this time of year?”

https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/10/27/mephistophelian/

If you happened to enjoy this post, you can find ‘Tales from Tinder” episodes 1 & 2 here: 

https://pencilandpaperstories.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/daily-prompt-retrospective/

https://pencilandpaperstories.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/word-of-the-day-pontificate/

#freeotis (Chapter Two)

Night fell, and still no one had passed along Otis’s stretch of river. He was tired from struggling against the netting that had trapped his tail, and he was finding it hard to stay awake and keep his head above the water to look for potential rescuers. His throat was sore from shouting for help, and he couldn’t seem to feel his tail anymore. The netting was so tight that it had gone numb.

Eventually he could fight to stay awake no longer and his head drooped down onto his chest, eyes closed. This wasn’t ideal for Otis because fresh water otters usually slept on land, but he didn’t have much of a choice today. He dreamt of his comfy bed on the riverbank, and his dad laughing as he heard all about Otis’s adventures from a day out on the river.

All of a sudden he was woken by the whirr of an engine and a loud splashing nearby. A boat! Otis scrabbled around wildly, bobbing his head up and down and making big splashes in the water to try and get the boat’s attention.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” the old fisherman said, as he spotted Otis thrashing about in front of his boat. “Looks like you’ve got yourself into a spot of bother, haven’t you?” Otis understood none of this, but was pleased that the boat man seemed to have seen him and was slowing his boat down. Normally he avoided humans, because sometimes they tried to capture you and put you in zoos, but this was an emergency.

The engine cut out and the old man leaned over the side of his boat to take a closer look.

“These darn plastic nets! You’re in a right old state, aren’t you little fella? That tail looks in a bad way, we’d best get you to a vet and see about it. Come on then!” and with that, he scooped Otis out of the water, cutting away at the netting with his pen-knife.

Word of the Day: Spectre

S-P-E-C-T-R-E. Spec-tray? Spec-ter? Spec-ta? I was trying to finish my English homework – learning new vocabulary ready for the SATs. It was always really old-fashioned words like ‘spectre’ that I had never even heard of and couldn’t pronounce, which just seemed pointless if you asked me. When was I ever going to use SPECTRE in a sentence? It’d make me sound like I belonged in the Victorian times. We’d been learning about the Victorian times in History. I prefer ‘ghost’, it’s a much scarier word. I like that there’s a silent letter in it (a ghost letter, ooh, spooky) and it doesn’t sound like a dinosaur who wears glasses.

I think doing this homework about spectres and ghosts has had a funny effect on me though, because last night something really weird happened. I put my pyjamas on and got into bed like always. Mum tucked me in and stroked my forehead and turned the lights off. But just as I was dropping off, I saw something out of my half-closed eyes. Ted (my very imaginatively named teddy bear) was FLOATING, right off my pillow and up towards the ceiling. I couldn’t believe it! I sat bolt upright, blinking hard to check I wasn’t dreaming. But Ted was still moving, sideways now, over towards my bedroom door. My mouth gaped open, and my hand reached up to pull Ted back to Earth. Only, then it got worse… Hugging Ted tight and floating right there above my bed was a little girl. She was wearing Victorian clothes. And I could see right through her.

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

I was officially freaked out.

“Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum!!!!!!!” I shrieked. I jumped out of bed, flung open the door and didn’t stop running until I got to Mum’s bedroom, where I dived onto her bed and pulled the covers right over my head.

“Ghost! Ghost! In my room! Ghost!” My words weren’t really working, but I think Mum got the general idea.

“Oh, not again…” she huffed, swinging her legs out of bed, “I thought we’d seen the last of her.”

This was not the reaction I was expecting.

I heard her footsteps walking down the corridor to my room. Mum swung open the door to my bedroom with a creak and sighed heavily.

“You listen here, Missy! That is my daughter’s favourite teddy bear you’ve got in those mucky little hands of yours, and you’ve frightened her half to death floating around like that. You give it back RIGHT NOW, you hear me? DROP IT.”

There was a THUNK as Ted was dropped on the floor of my bedroom.

“And you’ve got no business floating around this house willy-nilly scaring us all, popping up all over the place. Go back to the attic and stay there. Go on!”

She closed the door behind her with a click and marched back down the corridor.

Getting back into bed, she held out Ted for me to take. “Don’t worry darling, Ted is just fine, here he is – look. Let’s go to sleep now, shall we? You can stay in here with me tonight.” And then she kissed me on the forehead, turned out the bedside light, and went to sleep as if nothing had happened.

See? Weird.

 

 

https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/spectre/