Short stories are an exciting challenge, trying to catch the reader’s imagination with a character whose life is changed in some way in so few words. They are but a glimpse into another’s world, provoking thought and emotion.
I have always loved the short story, reading a variety of magazines, popular and small press, to which I eventually contributed. As life progressed, so my markets expanded and, although time was sometimes scarce, the short story form continued to fascinate. With a folder bulging at the seams, I sought publication for a collection. Here it is – Destiny’s Footprints.
I chose this title because, in each story, the main character takes a step forward on their natural or chosen destiny in life. The themes are varied, from humorous to murderous, a gentle slice of life to the supernatural.
I hope the stories give you as much pleasure reading them as they gave me in their creation.
There are 22 stories in the book and below are some extracts which, I hope, will entice you to read more.
The first sign of fear came from the birds. Crows circled, cawing, screaming, spiralling upwards. Starlings followed, shrieking, one dark mass soaring into the thin grey clouds that had suddenly hidden the spring sun. Aislie stood in the meadow, watching the heaving wings disappear into infinity and wondered what had spooked them. No human being was visible on the farm, the meadows stretching greenly behind her to the farmhouse, a smudged pencil sketch in the distance.
She shivered. The warmth had beckoned her, torn her from her painting, and she had breathed the fresh sweet smell of hedgerows budding, primroses and dewy grass. Father was ploughing the first turn of the year and mother busied herself baking, a domestic scene that had framed her childhood, but fettered her now as she longed to escape the solitude of the soft hills, a longing poured into her paintings, paintings of tall buildings, moon-swept roofs, neon lights brightly daubed and rows of people, people in the streets at night, people living in the nights; her dreams fed these scenes. She would go there, one day, it was a promise, a promise whispered in dark nights as the wind howled and snow lashed the peaks, a whisper seeping through the cold windows and slipping into obscurity.
“This data, Harry,” Jasper fluttered paper in the air above Harry’s head, “this data is the key to your future.”
Harry wasn’t sure what ‘data’ was, but if Uncle Jasper said the paper was important, then he’d better believe it! He tried to look intelligent and was relieved by further explanation.
“I’ve recorded your instructions for this new contract in simple steps. This way, you’ll be able to understand your duties precisely. It’s vitally important that every detail is exactly right. We can’t afford any slip-ups.”
Jasper towered over him, glaring at Harry to add weight to the importance of his words. A big man, his neck had concertinaed beneath the weight of his head and Harry viewed his uncle with awe. But then, Harry viewed most people with awe.
“Do you understand, Harry? I’m giving you a chance to show me what you’re made of. If you fail me…” Jasper left the threat unfinished.
Harry shivered and nodded his head, his hair flopping over his forehead. Screwing up his eyes, he studied the sheet of paper Jasper had given him. This was his one chance to prove himself, so it was essential he follow the instructions to the letter. He had been a trainee in the family firm for nearly a year now and was anxious to progress from general dogsbody.
Don’t Go Back
He stopped on the dirt track, the dust billowing over his sandals, and listened. The laughter wafted through the olive blossom and swayed on the breeze, buoyed by the heady scent; a light joyous laughter that squeezed his heart and brought a lump to his throat.
He felt tears beneath his eyelids. How could he cry when the laughter conveyed so much joy? He pictured a young Greek girl, working in her garden, her homely Kalivi hidden from his eyes in the olive grove and he couldn’t stop the memories crowding his senses, the image of Loukia filling his mind; the pain a physical blow.
“You must be daft, Greg!” His friend and colleague, Peter, had looked at him in surprise. “What on earth do you want to go back to Skopelos for?”
“It was a good holiday,” Greg muttered.
“But, to go alone?” Peter took a swig of beer as he watched Greg over the rim. “You’re not still hankering for the Greek girl – what was her name?”
“Loukia,” Greg replied quietly and stared into his glass, running his finger over the handle. “Loukia.”
“Let her go.” Peter’s voice was gentle. “It’s not a good idea to go back.”
Greg shrugged. Peter didn’t know…
The day that Jake had all his teeth removed proved to be a catalyst to a startling upsurge in his fortune. Not that he realised that at the time. All he felt at the moment of reviving from the anaesthetic was pain. His mouth felt worse than from any meeting with angry fists, and he’d had many of those in his life. No, this pain was definitely different and he repeatedly assured the nurse of that fact until he was administered with painkillers.
They allowed him home, if the dingy bed-sit on the top floor of the crumbling building in the back streets of the city could be called that; allowed him home in his misery despite the fact that he was adamant that there was no one to care for him.
“Now Mr Malone,” the nurse was chiding him in the same tone of voice she reserved for the children’s ward. “You’ve only had your teeth out. We’ve given you plenty of painkillers. Just rest and sip some warm soup. Tomorrow you’ll feel differently and we’ll see you then to check your gums.”
So home he had to go, in a taxi he could ill-afford.
The next day he didn’t feel differently. The ache in his head, the pain in his gums and the general feeling of sickness all encouraged the thought that life wasn’t worth living. He’d wondered about this fact before, but never as vehemently as he did that morning when he managed to lever his protesting body to the bathroom and unexpectedly faced himself in the mirror.
“My God!” He clutched the side of the wash basin and slowly his eyes assimilated his face.
“No one will recognise me like this!” Of course they wouldn’t! This offered possibilities. Always one to grasp opportunities Jake stared at himself. “No one will recognise me like this,” he repeated joyously and, stretching himself on the sofa, he allowed his imagination to roam.