Little Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

(William Blake, ‘The Lamb’).

A cloudless morning with the glint of spring and smell of distant woodsmoke. Graham was shifting hay for the horse, the strain in his back wrenching every time he bent and lifted the pitchfork. The horse kicked and snorted in the stable opposite, impatiently awaiting her new abode. Jasmine was a haughty one, a retired racehorse whose bulging muscle helped drag the old carts over the field when the trailer broke down – which, these days, it often did. Every now and then, Graham stopped his work to give Jasmine a Polo mint and a hearty pat on the flank.

“Makes me sad to see you upset,” he cooed to her, “I’ll be finished soon.” Jasmine sniffed.

This was the last spring that Graham would spend on the farm. He was fifty five years old and had lived there all his life. The thought of leaving pained him more than the crick in his spine.

The task was to clean up the land and the barns and sort everything before summer. The architect kept ‘popping round’ to inspect the grounds and survey the house, but aside from dishing out cups of tea, Graham and his family did their best to ignore him. It was unbearable to be reminded of what was soon to happen.

Graham’s wife, Marjorie, had pulled down all the old junk from the loft. There were books with mouldy pages, miniature soldiers, a typewriter they had sold for twenty pounds in a local jumble sale. One of the few things they had kept was a toy lamb. Its label was frayed and it had lost some of its fluff, but was still soft and awfully sweet, with bright little marble eyes. Marjorie had hand-washed it in the sink, gently scrubbing the attic’s must and muck from its fur. Watching her in the kitchen through the twinkling dust particles, Graham felt he had never loved his wife more. Thirty two years and nothing came between them.

Graham decided to give the lamb to his grandchild, Ella. She needed something to remind her of her roots. When his son Andrew had told him he was going for a job in the city, Graham had tried not to show his disappointment.

“It’ll be a good life, Dad,” Andrew had said as they looked out over the wheat fields, “with good pay and security. Times are changing.”

Yes, times were changing. There was no denying that now.

There was the ever-plunging price of dairy; the endless inspections; the cost of upgrading machinery. People leaving the village because rural life simply wasn’t feasible these days.

Once, Graham had held visions of his daughter inheriting Jasmine, galloping across the fields with her glossy copper hair streaming behind her like reeds underwater. There would be homemade jam and Sunday breakfasts, early mornings of pearly dawn, showing his children how to milk and lamb and clean the cows. But his son was a lawyer, and his daughter had died, years ago now. Her ashes were scattered out in the hills, where the wind-turbines went on endlessly spinning. Soon, when they were forced to leave all they had ever known, there would be nothing left of her memory.

It was getting towards twilight now, and Graham had set off to bring the animals in. The sky was darkening with amethyst clouds as the crescent moon revealed herself, tired and wan. He too had never felt so weary. The collie dog was on her best behaviour and soon the sheep were under shelter, but he was having some trouble with the cows. He stood upon the hill shouting as if he were calling to the elements themselves. He shook and howled; he knew he was losing it. Droplets of rain began to fall on his face, mingling with his tears. Growing ever more violent, the crying sky splashed down on the soil and filled the holes in his boots.

Finally the cows were inside and Graham was trudging back towards the farmhouse, soaked to the skin. Just then, he saw a familiar car pull up in the drive. It was his son’s immaculate BMW, now apparently streaked with a line of mud. Graham heard the doors slam shut and the sound of voices. It was Ella, singing! Even with the cold rain dripping down his neck, the simple melody filled him with warmth. He rushed inside to join them.

“Bloody bushes caught the side of my car, you need to get them cut back Dad.” It was the first thing Andrew said to him. This time, however, Graham ignored his whiny voice.

“What’s the point when we’re leaving so soon?” He sighed.

They all sat down for Marjorie’s best steak pie, but when she looked at her plate, Ella protested that she’d become a vegetarian. Surprised but with a smile, Marjorie rustled up some pasta and ruffled the girl’s ginger hair as she served it to her.

“It’s just wrong to hurt animals,” Ella explained as she tucked into her dinner. And as Graham lifted a forkful of pie to his lips, he paused. He thought of the sorrow of market day, the poor beasts he’d had to sell because they were getting next to nothing for their milk. He thought of the chickens killed for their dinners, and the people that came in trailers to take away the lambs.

“You know, that reminds me of something.” Decisively, he put down his knife and fork and pushed away his plate. He left the room and Andrew and Marjorie exchanged confused glances, though nothing would keep them from their food.

A few moments later, Graham returned with the cuddly lamb. Something Ella had said struck a chord in his memory.

“I’ve got a little present for you,” he knelt by his granddaughter’s chair as he handed it to her, “I think you should have it, more than anyone else in the world.” Ella looked at him with shining eyes as she took the lamb and pressed its softness to her pink cheeks.

“Oh she’s lovely!”

“Lovely indeed,” Graham agreed. The toy had, of course, belonged to his own daughter. It was the missing piece; the only thing they could take away when they had to leave. And in Ella’s hands, Graham knew she would live on in the sweet innocence that had so suddenly been stolen from her.

Jasmine, now, would only live on as long as her legs weren’t lame, and the other animals would probably be taken away. The land might be tainted with steel and concrete. But at least Graham could leave behind the cruelties he now recognised. He could pass on the tiny piece of spirit that would never leave these hills. The spirit of sunlight and sadness, freedom and laughter; the spirit of his daughter.

(Prompts: rain, pitchfork)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

A Serpent

This morning is bleak, but whether that’s a novel observation at all considering the fact it’s February is up to the reader. I’ve just lurched into a little cafe-chippy place for a bite to eat and a cup of something. The thing on the plate is breakfast in name only- It bears the texture of rubber gloves and smells like melted flip-flops. I decide I need to look at something other than that old misshapen lump, so I check out the street through the little window to my left. A dull fog, the kind of fog I like getting lost in, is snagging on the branches of trees across the road.

A fine bleak morning, then. The hangover might be ruining it a bit, but nothing short of buckshot will sort that. May as well make the best of it and go exploring.

Eventually the supreme beak of a serpent cuts the mist, painted in drab grey. The rest of it crouches in the white abyss, stretching off for what could be miles. Were I of more valiant composition, I’d have a go at it with a lance, but for the moment I’m just content to loiter on the pier. Some halo’d templar will show up soon enough to behead the thing anyways, no need to worry. Then again…

I decide to get out of there- The kind of man that runs about swinging swords with the intention of butchering giant creatures sounds like the kind of man that gets carried away and cuts down the next two or three or fifty bystanders by accident. As I leave I pass an old man fishing, and worry that the next one to bite might end up being the monster lurking further down in the fog. He flashes me a grin of mostly gums and shows off his earlier prize: A stumpy little mackerel, still twitching despite its broken neck. On second thought, he seems more than capable of dealing with the beast. After wishing him luck, I slip off into the rolling gloom, intent on wasting a few more hours.

What were your prompts?: Picture of a ship, breakfast

by Paul Inglis

Cereal Killer

‘Where’s the milk?’
‘In the fridge where it always is, except when you forget to put it back.’
‘There’s no cereal in this box.’
‘There’s another box in the cupboard.’
‘This is Rice Krispies …’
‘I don’t like Rice Krispies, I wanted Coco Pops.’
‘I couldn’t get Coco Pops, Spar only had Rice Krispies.’
‘Why didn’t you go to Tesco?’
‘I didn’t have time. Just imagine they’re Coco Pops.’
‘How the hell do I do that?’
‘Travis, for fucks sake, you’re thirty two, a fucking grown up! Try to act like one.’
‘I’m just saying … I don’t like Rice Krispies.’
‘Well, you’ll just have to lump it. What a sad specimen of an Australian you are! What about all that bush tucker? Witchetty grubs and all that? and you’re moaning about a plate of Rice fucking Krispies?’
‘Is it too much for a man to ask that he should have a proper breakfast before getting off to work in the morning?’
‘GET OUT YOU BASTARD!’ The cereal bowl went flying through the air in the direction of Travis’s head but twelve years of marriage to Jane had taught him, if nothing else, how to avoid airborne crockery. It was made of plastic anyway. Grabbing his uniform jacket, Travis was out of the door and into his red ford focus as quick as lightning, off down the road in the direction of Kildoran in a cacophony of crashing gears.

‘What time is it?’ Brenda asked Helen who was standing at the window.
‘0730.’ she replied without as much as a sideways glance at a clock.
‘Jane has just thrown Travis out.’

Prompts: breakfast, argument

by Jane Jones

(Yesterday’s Story) The Elect of Six

At first I wore the Lovat Green and it suited me very well. Tonight I was wearing an altogether different shade of green.
Darkness. Dank, damp, cold, all enclosing darkness. The smell of pine needles scents the air. The forest floor is quiet. Not silent but quiet. Silently I indicate to my five companions to move forward. We are toting SA80’s and light kit. Slowly we move through the trees, racing against time. Weary, cold and hungry we press on.
I shine my torch onto my compass to check our bearings. The light glints on a bayonet. I look at my watch. Time is not on our side, the sands are rapidly running out.
We are on the right bearing and once more we move silently through the forest floor. Branches brush our faces, creatures scurry across our path in the dark. Then we see the first signs of light in the distance, beyond the tree line. Can we make it in time? I check my watch again. We must make haste. Then, we smell it, the smells of habitation. We are nearing our destination. Close to the forest clearing we seek. Silently we move in the direction of the odour. AS we approach, we see him, standing alone, his back to us. He wears a white hat and he scans the view for anyone approaching. He is alert, waiting, he knows we are coming. We advance silently out of the trees towards him. He turns, raising the implement he holds in his hand. As we approach, he speaks.
‘Hurry up ya auld tarts, ye nearly missed breakfast!’

by Jane Helen Jones
What were your prompts?: Forest, Sunrise