By Julie Dexter
Welcome to my final creative writing Showcase this December. I’d like to begin with this artwork, Dark Fantastic Sunworship, by Simon Pemberton.
You can connect with Simon at his website: simonpemberton.com and follow him on Twitter: @pemberton_simon and Instagram: @pemberton.simon
In this startling short story, a warning reminder to collect essential self-survival items forms, as Claire Buss reveals the extent of what being snowed in can mean for some across the country.
The scream echoed down the hallway and was followed by delighted gasps as everyone scrambled to the window to look outside. Sure enough, the snow was falling: quietly, gently covering the path in a layer of perfect icing sugar.
“Can we go outside? Please, Mum, please?”
The inevitable begging began because, after all, it was snowing.
“Not now kids, it’s nearly bedtime.” Mum was strict, but she smiled inwardly. She’d seen the weather forecast. This was only the beginning. When she was little, an icing sugar dusting was pretty much all you got. That, and the occasional frozen puddle. But this year they were getting the Beast from the East! She herded the reluctant children away from the window and redrew the curtains.
Checking all the children had brushed their teeth, Mum bundled them into bed. Socks on, PJs tucked in. Hats and gloves for the girls, who seemed to feel it more than the boys. Everyone had big duvets with a blanket each on top. It meant there were no spare blankets for Mum, but keeping the kids warm was the main thing.
Once all the bedtime kisses had been made and everyone was tucked in, Mum went back to the front room and shivered. She peeked out of the window and stared in shock. What had been a light sprinkle was now a thick blizzard. She couldn’t even see the car parked across the road. And the wind had started. It was whipping up the snowflakes, making them twirl in thicker and thicker flurries. You couldn’t tell what was grass and what was pavement.
A little thread of worry began to grow. What if it snowed like this all night long? But then she laughed. It never snowed like this for long in the UK.
Walking into her bedroom, Mum was horrified: the curtains were moving, no thanks to the strong wind outside. She checked the room thermometer. Thirteen degrees! Hurriedly, she went over to the cot to check on the baby. She was still breathing, but her hands were like ice and her head felt cool. Mum fished out some mittens from the drawer and two extra blankets. She folded one into a horseshoe shape and placed it around the baby’s head, offering some protection from the cold emanating from the window.
After tucking the baby in under another blanket and putting the mittens on, Mum gazed at the old wooden sash windows that rattled in the wind. Inspired, she went to get some toilet roll and began stuffing it into the cracks of the window frame. It wasn’t perfect, but it would begin to make a difference. Feeling too cold to get undressed, Mum huddled under her duvet, scrunching it up around her shoulders so that only her eyes and nose peeked out. At least it would all be gone by the morning.
A pair of cold hands on her face woke Mum with a start.
“Mum, Mum, come see, come see.”
The small child pulled at the duvet, trying to drag her parent to the front room window. A quick check on the sleeping baby showed she was still alive, still snugly wrapped, with a slightly healthier room temperature of 16 degrees. She felt relief and then guilt that she’d fallen to sleep so quickly and then slept so deeply that she hadn’t been checking on the baby. Of course she was still alive. It was only a cold night. Nothing to worry about.
“Look, Mum, look!”
All the children had gathered at the window, the curtains pulled right back. A bright white glow was all that she could see until she realised. That was all snow. The entire window was covered in snow. Hurriedly, Mum clicked on the TV and found the news channel. There were no newscasters sitting at the desk. There was no live feed. There was just blackness. She tried the radio; nothing except static. She kept turning the dial, looking, looking, looking. Ah! There it was! A faint signal. She tried to fine-tune and finally made out the following message:
“We are snowed in. Send help. We have no power. We have no water. Please send help. We are snowed in. Send help. We have no power. We have no water. Please send help.”
The message continued, obviously on a loop. ‘They should’ve said where they are,’ thought Mum, as she looked up gratefully at the light on above her head. It flickered and died. Mum rushed to the sink and turned the tap on. There was a loud clanging, but not a single drop came out. They didn’t have any bottled water; she didn’t buy it – her small way of endeavouring to help the environment.
“Mum! I’m hungry!””‘Me too.’
“Can I have a drink?”
Mum tried to think. Maybe she could get out to the shop, get some help. She tried the front door. It opened. Onto a wall of snow that was so thickly packed in, not a single flake fell into the house. She couldn’t go outside. She couldn’t get upstairs because the flat above had access through an additional door next to hers. No internal, shared hallway or anything. But she could ring Jenny, who lived upstairs, to see how high the snow was.
The phone was dead. So she tried her mobile. There was no mobile signal. Mum tried to make sense of what was happening. The baby woke up and started screaming for milk. But she couldn’t make any. There was no power. No hot water. Nothing. They were snowed in.
(c) Claire Buss, 2018
Emergency Supplies. During this inclement weather, ensuring you have about three days’ supply of bottled water and ready-to-eat food that won’t go off, charged battery packs for mobile phones, essential medication, and a first aid kit mot help get you through the worst-case scenario.
For many of us who will be out celebrating the new year, taking the free all-night tubes and trains home is a fun thing to do. The trains will, no doubt, contain all sorts of people: all humans and all as one; yet each of us is individually multifarious, as depicted here within the tacit observations made by George F Brown.
The Late Train Home
Few things are as satisfying as seeing the train, your train, poking its head out around the corner of the platform like a tortoise emerging from its shell. You sense the noise of the engine approaching, an ever so slight change in the air as wind is pushed in your direction. It is the match that lights many a drunken fire and brings the people on the platform to life.
The last train home is a social phenomenon. It is the paradigm for human behaviour, in all its diversity and wonder. The roars of delight start to echo around the old platform as groups of men, at this point closer to walking, talking cocktails of alcohol, blood and tissue than human beings, see their route home arrive. Their female counterparts join in the excitement, awkwardly limping towards the incoming train, hindered by high heels and their own haziness; men jockey and hustle for the best position whilst scared and sober recruits huddle in the comfort of their units, ready to fight their way to a seat.
I am amongst the group gathering by Coach F, my eyes moist as a mixture of the cold and my own weary state of mind leave me with a slightly smeared view of what lies in front of me. I am alone, my only accomplices being the beat and rhythm of the music that flows from my headphones and reverberates around my head. The music has the effect of somewhat numbing the action going on around me. The cackled laughs of a hen party nearby seems ever so slightly more distant.
A train never feels narrower than at around midnight, as you leave the cold air behind and become engulfed in the sweaty, boozy atmosphere, crammed into the tight space between the adjoining carriages, unable to move without brushing a stranger. History flashes before me as I imagine myself embarking on a voyage, escaping my home country and its lack of resources, and joining my compatriots on a journey into the unknown in the hope of a better life.
The pilgrims didn’t have to deal with football chants, is my second and less poignant thought.
Gradually, the conveyor belt of partygoers clicks back into life and I find myself walking away from the intoxicating atmosphere of the last train home out onto the escalator and on into the New Year, 2023.
(c) George F Brown, 2022
You can connect with George on Instagram: @george_f_brown and visit his website: georgefbrown.wordpress.com
I am taking part in the local library’s ‘mystery paperback’ scheme. It works very simply. Books that the librarians deem to be worthwhile borrowing are wrapped in newspaper so that you can’t see the titles. It’s a scheme to encourage people to extend their reading material. Once issued, it’s quite exciting to tear open the paper, wondering what you will be reading next.
Our Dreams Have Jurisdictions Only Over Ourselves
Last week I unearthed a new writer, Brian Aldiss. The cover for his novella, Ruins, is striking with its sage green background and burgundy circle in the middle, through which a solitary figure stands in an open doorway. In the preface are the words: Our Dreams have Jurisdiction only over ourselves.
I read the novel, enjoying his writing. I smiled at his turn of phrase and then began to wonder who he was. Brian passed away in 2017. I discovered he was a prolific artist and writer, having written over 100 novels and 300 short stories and poems.
What he has to say about dreams is relevant and poignant; not only to us as writers but also to the new year ahead of us.
Brian says that his work almost always started from dreaming.
He said that at night he had dreams where he woke and thought: “My God, what an idea!” He describes his book, Helliconia as starting that way. “As I wake up, my conscious mind is functioning, but I’m still in touch with the subconscious, which has been flowing throughout the night. The two meet, and often there’s fertile ground there. If you can hold that and put it on paper, it’s likely to be more truthful than something constructed purely cerebrally. It goes down into a deeper region.”
I like this very much: this idea of the meeting of two consciousnesses creating truthful work.
Now we will begin to formulate our wishes, dreams and resolutions, with the hope that they will be fulfilled during the New Year that is ahead of us.
Whatever you wish for, or dream of, I hope 2023 will bring creative new projects that will be fresh, exciting and truthful.
I wish you a very, very Happy New Year!
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please submit your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: pentoprint.org/get-involved/submit-to-write-on/
Hear extracts from Showcase in our podcast. Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: