So this all began when I got a call from ma wee mam. Settle in because this is a long one …
“Are you around?” She says on the voice mail. “Can you phone me back?”
So I do … and this is what had transpired:
My mam had been visiting a friend and my young nephew was enjoying the responsibility of being home alone and (dare I say it) peace and quiet.
Anyway, like most young teens he blocked the world out with headphones, YouTube and the silly bam fell fast asleep.
Mum returns home a short time later and can’t get in the door. Yes the dizzy little B locked the door and left the key in.
Now, anyone who knows my mam knows she ain’t quiet. Her fog horn scream through the letter box can’t stir him, neighbours banging on ceilings and floors can’t stir him.
“I have a ladder!” A helpful neighbour suggests. Perhaps going in through the balcony? They return with a two tier step ladder. What in the Hell are they supposed to do with that? Pile on shoulders like circus performers?
So the police are informed. There comes Glasgow’s finest tearing round the corner but of course there’s nothing they can do. Now a fire engine dingalinging, making even more of a scene than my mother already was because did I mention she had hair dye in that needed rinsing?
The fire men manage to get in through the balcony and open up. The police follow in to make sure everything is in fact okay.
“Thank you officers. Thank you ever so much,” mum says in her most queenly voice.
The door of the nephew’s bedroom is kicked open like the terminator. Aaron sits up in bed, sleep dazed and wondering what the Hell is going on.
Queenly voice lost immediately. East end Glasgow takes over.
“You ya stupid looking (enter string of expletives)! Did ye no hear me shouting!”
All I can think to myself is the little man needs to tell me what kind of headphones he’s using. I could use that kind of noise cancelling power. 🤷🏻♀️
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My name is Grace Walden and when I turned forty – like most women – I gave into vanity. Those little wrinkles started to appear at the corner of my eyes, my hair lost its shine and my body was drooping in ways it never did before. Something had to be done.
As I wandered through the aisles of Keep Dreaming cosmetic store – conscious of the fact that the perky, twenty something, store girls were watching me – I picked up various bottles of potions with girls on the label promising me I could look just like them. It was all air brushed nonsense of course but as I said I gave in to the vanity. Life so far, with all it’s ups and downs, had left me looking tired and pale. I snatched a bottle up greedily and brought it to the counter.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” asked the teller who looked as though she had a professional make up artist on hand to prepare her every morning.
“This will do, thanks,” I replied. I was eager to get home and lather myself in the stuff.
“Try not to use too much of this,” warned the store girl. “It can be quite potent.” She must have noticed that hungry look in my eyes.
I took it home, pasted my face as instructed and that night I had the best sleep of my life.
In the morning I dashed to the mirror. I was delighted to find a fresh faced beauty of a woman staring back. I smiled, making me look even more luminous. My skin was soft. My teeth gleamed. When I stepped outside I even drew an admiring look or two (something that hadn’t happened since I had had my third child). It felt great. I was fabulous at forty. By the time I got home I had started to droop again. My eyes clouded over with tiredness. The potion wasn’t long lasting. I ran immediately back to the store.
“It works wonders,” I told the clerk, “but I need some more.”
“I did warn you not to use too much,” she said again.
I bought two bottles.
I used more that night, the whole two bottles if you must know. In the morning I looked better than I ever did. I could have graced the cover of a magazine, let me tell you, but it faded faster. By the time I paid a visit to a friend who was only just around the corner I had gone from super model to super scary. The only magazine I would be gracing would be a horror one. The wrinkles were deeper, the face paler. I looked like the only sleep I had was in a crypt.
I dashed back to the shop – covering my face with a scarf like the invisible man. I cleared my bank account and bought the stores entire stock of the miracle lotion.
“Please be careful,” the clerk said.
What did she know? She had to be all of twenty five.
I bathed in it and by the time I was done Cleopatra would have been envious. That’s when it happened. Now I can’t bear to look in the mirror. Now I long for my own drooping body, my wrinkles that laughter over the years gave me. When I look at the creature I’ve become I really wish I hadn’t gone chasing that impossible standard.
They say cats have nine lives. Mine has an infinite number and let me explain to you why.
He first came into my life as a kitten. I was ten years old and I came home from school one day to find my dad was up to something.
“Come meet your new friend!” he cheered.
I didn’t have many friends as a child so my dad thought a pet would make an ideal companion. My heart leapt with joy when I heard a meow. He ran at me, his eyes gleaming with instant friendship but rather than leaping into my arms he misjudged and jumped right through the open window. We were three stories up!
Luckily he was okay. He was a little dazed but okay.
“That’s one life lost already,” dad joked.
That day the grey kitten earned his name. Splat!
What featured after that was a long line of mishaps. Starting with Splat! having climbed into a tree. ‘Most cats do that’ I hear you say. Whilst I had the fire brigade on the phone I looked out of the window and Splat! toppled from one of the top branches.
“Never mind,” I told the fireman. “He’s down now.”
Splat! Shook his body and ran off onto his days adventures.
Keeping Spat! out of trouble and away from danger was no easy task. He was run over by Mrs Ninn, who came charging down the street in her little green car looking over the steering wheel through her thick prescription lenses. Splat! didn’t stand a chance. I was distraught. I should have known better by then though. I ran to him. Mrs Winn sped away not realising what had happened. Splat! was still breathing. By the time I reached him he was back on all four feet.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Meeeouch!” he gasped but disappeared off. He even came back with a disgruntled mouse that night.
The more of those things happened to him the more I began to realise how amazing a cat he actually was. There was feline agility and then there was surviving an attack from the Keddle kids’s nasty Pitbull.
Splat! was no ordinary pet. That much I was sure of. When I asked dad where he had gotten him he replied, “some old lady.”
I paid a visit to that old lady. She had at least fifty cats.
“I never intended on becoming an old cat lady,” she explained to me. “Splat! and all of his brothers and sisters come from a special breed that dates back to Ancient Egypt. They were worshipped because the never died.”
She pointed to a fat one sleeping in the corner. It had the same grey fur as Splat!.
“That’s Heckles,” she said. “He’s the father of most of them. He’s been with me my entire life and I’m eighty eight! My mother had him at least thirty years before that.”
Heckles opened his large yellow eyes and looked up as thought to say, ‘so what?’
I looked around at the other cats. One brown one with a white dab on it’s nose was using a litter box. A far cry from the creature worshipped by ancient people.
I returned to Splat!. He was stretched out on across my bed bathing in a small slither of sunlight that broke through the window. What was I going to do with an immortal cat?
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She sat down on the uncomfortable, plastic chair. The room was cold. Paula Campbell wished she had worn a heavier top. She wrapped her arms around her frame and rubbed heat into them.
The guards watched her. She wasn’t an inmate at the Montefort Prison for women but she couldn’t help but feel the guards were suspicious of her.
When her sister was led in Paula’s breath caught in her throat. Tracey was the younger of the two. Her usual sci fi T shirt and stone washed jeans had been replaced by an orange jump suit. Tracey’s short, stocky frame didn’t wear the outfit well.
Tracey was seated across from her sister. She rested her cuffed hands on the table. Her brown hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Tracey said.
Paula shook her head. “Neither of us should be here.”
Tracey’s lips stretched into a smile. She had a pretty face with warm blue eyes but Paula couldn’t help but think she didn’t recognise the person sat across from her.
“Tell me it isn’t true,” she urged. “The things they said you did.”
Tracey raised her hands demonstrating the cuffs.
“They don’t put you in this flattering attire and give you free digs at this five star hotel for nothing,” she said sarcastically.
Paula was glad Tracey hadn’t lost her spirit. It was something of a comfort.
Tracey had been studying to become a doctor. She had always been studious and aimed for the stars. She had a more promising future than her elder sister. Paula couldn’t help but wonder where it all went wrong.
“How could it have come to this?” Paula asked.
Tracey raised her eyebrows.
“Clearly I’m not as good as I thought I was.”
When her sister shook her head she added, “They wouldn’t let me finish my final exam. The bastards arrested me right in the middle of it. I would have gotten an A for sure.”
Paula interrupted. “After what you did it wouldn’t make a blinding bit of difference! They would never let you become a doctor.”
A large woman in a guard uniform unfolded her arms and looked over at them. Paula calmed herself and lowered her voice.
“You still haven’t denied it,” she said in a stern big sisterly tone as though Tracey had borrowed an item of clothing without asking rather than finding herself behind bars for the next few decades.
“Why should I deny it?” Tracey replied. “I did it. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Paula looked distraught. Her eyes clouded with tears. “I can’t believe it,” she gasped.
Tracey laughed. “The only thing I can’t believe is that I actually got caught. It took them long enough.”
Paula sobbed. “Think of those families,” she urged. “All those people.”
“Twenty all in,” Tracey finished for her. “Roughly half of my anatomy class.”
Paula used her index finger to wipe underneath her eye. “Do you feel no remorse?”
Tracey’s gaze moved to the guard at the back watching them.
“You don’t understand, Paula,” she said finally sounding serious. “I am destined for greatness. I was failing the class. They were breezing through and they weren’t caring. I worked so hard. I really did. I spent days and nights at the library. The little coffee lady even refused to serve me more expresso. My eyes were popping out of my head. Did it make a difference? Not in the slightest. I had to correct it somehow.”
Paula wasn’t convinced. “All those people are dead.”
“Trust me, they were a sorry bunch. I did the world a favour.”
Paula had heard enough. She stood but before she left the table Tracey said, “ You don’t know the full story. Hear that and then you will understand.”
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“What is it?” he asked eagerly. “Tell me!” Charlie urged.
“I am a witch.” said Aunt Trudy softly and slowly.
Charlie’s eyes lit with joy. He had always known there was something unusual about his lovable aunt. “Does that mean I’m a witch too?” he asked excitedly.
“Don’t be stupid boy,” said Trudy. Charlie’s hopes were dashed in an instant. When Trudy saw his sad little face she continued, “Being a witch takes years of practice. I will show you but in the meantime … What to do about those bullies…” her voice trailed off as she heaved a heavy, dusty, green leather bound book, slammed it on the table and proceeded to unbuckle the golden clip that held the book closed. Dust flew from the pages as they were turned. Aunt Trudy ran her finger slowly over the hand written words. The writing was so scribbled and hurried it was difficult to read.
“Aha!” announced Aunt Trudy in triumph disturbing their quiet contemplation. “This ought to do the trick!”
Aunt Trudy’s first spell: Removing an enemies voice
With lizard tails,
And an old woman’s nails,
Take a frog and a pot of snails.
Mush them together in one big stew,
Add a drop of blood but it must be new,
Along with rat tails, not one but two.
Give to your enemy; they must drink it fast,
Every single drop or the effects won’t last,
Now they won’t say a word until you ask.
“Lucky we have all the ingredients right here,” said Aunt Trudy cheerfully pulling bottles from the shelf. Charlie picked up a jar labelled ‘pickled raven’s claw’. He opened the lid and brought the jar to his nose. Aunt Trudy snatched it back from him. “Don’t sniff that, not unless you want a pig snout,” she warned.
“I’m not sure about this,” the nephew said hesitantly.
Aunt Trudy began pouring the ingredients into a black ceramic bowl. The contents were bubbling, mixing together to form an orange paste. “Don’t be silly, that bully will learn.” There was a crazed look in Aunt Trudy’s eyes that Charlie didn’t like one bit.
Charlie asked “Will they get hurt?”
“Not unless you want them to.” Aunt Trudy took the bowl, held it high above her head and whispered the magic words. “Munchlum Doodledum Frooglepop.”
She took some to their garden, Charlie followed. The neighbours’ dog, Benny, had managed to climb onto their grass again ruining Aunt Trudy’s vegetable patch and leaving canine deposits everywhere. Benny was yapping uncontrollably.
“What are you doing?” the little boy asked when he noticed his aunt staring at the dog.
Aunt Trudy held the bowl out in front of her. “First rule of witchcraft Charlie, take out the neighbour’s pesky pet.” Benny was wagging his tail eagerly and still yapping. Trudy lowered the bowl to him and he took several large gulps not stopping to sniff. He started yapping again. Charlie folded his arms across his chest in disappointment. “Give it a moment,” Trudy said. They both watched the dog. Suddenly Benny’s voice was lost. His horrid screeching bark became silent. His jaws were open and his lungs were pushing but no sound came out. “I do that when I want to shut that thing up,” said the aunt. “Now you know how it works, give it to your bully.”
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Lot’s of people say that porcelain dolls are creepy. I always disagreed. I was given my first doll for Christmas back when I was eight and I loved it so much people kept flooding me with more and more. I’m now thirteen and I still love my dolls.
“Their horrid. How can you sleep at night with all of them staring at you like that,” my best friend Otto says. He’s not the free spirit I am. He thinks I don’t notice but he tends to turn them to face the wall if we happen to be watching TV at my house. I can see his eyes dart every now and again to them to check they haven’t moved on their own.
The bright pink walls of my room are lined with various porcelain faces. My favourite one is one that always sits in the middle. She wears a purple dress. Her eyes are beetle black and she has a thick head of spiral curls like my own. Dad brought her back from a trip to the lesser known country of Mergovia. He was on a photography assignment from his newspaper when he saw an old woman who easily looked like she had seen one hundred years. She was selling the dolls so he brought one home for me. He said that the woman had tried to usher him some kind of warning but he didn’t understand the language. He always did have a flair for the dramatic.
I named her ‘Hate’ because of all my dolls – their faces normally serene, shiny eyes vacant – she looked like she was scowling a little. Given her stern expression and crazy hair I always imagined her angry. I would tell Hate all of the things that were bothering me. She wouldn’t dismiss them or tell me that I was over reacting like most people did. She listened. She scowled on my behalf and I felt better. I had a good thing going with Hate. That was until the night I woke her up.
It had been a particularly bad day. I had failed a Spanish test, I dropped my lunch tray in view of everyone and I had been walking around all afternoon with toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Rather than telling me this the girls felt it better to giggle at my expense. It wasn’t until I met Otto after school and he told me was it finally removed. My name being Tally, it lead to the new nickname ‘Toilet Paper Tally’. I will now bear this new name until I can talk dad into letting me move school.
I was relaying all of this to Hate, spilling my inner nastiness. She stared down at me with her scowl like she felt the pain of each of my words.
I smiled, content that I had managed to shoulder my humiliation. I switched my lamp off and laid my head on my pillow. I gave one last look at Hate and could have sworn she was angled more towards me than she had been. Anyway, off to sleep I went.
In the middle of the night I heard a soft singing. It was a tune that seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. It was a soft little voice that sounded younger than my own. There was someone else in my room! I looked up. This time Hate definitely had moved. She was staring straight at me.
“Well look who’s awake,” she said in a sharp, shrill shriek that wasn’t as soft as her singing voice.
I could only stare at her. How often does a doll come to life? Too often I’d say.
“Aren’t you going to lift me down from here or are you just going to keep staring at me like a dim witted moron.”
“You’re not real,” I gasped.
Hate shook her head. “You can bet your ass I’m real.”
“Dolls don’t come to life.” I tried rubbing my eyes. My brain told me I was dreaming.
Hate shook her head slowly. It a slow moment that required a lot of effort from her. “This one does. Now get me down from here. We have work to do…”
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