Spooked

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where they asked us to:

Share a piece inspired by witches, real or imagined.

My story is 100% real. There’s no way I can do it justice by anything other than a straight journalistic account. Even then, there’s no way I can write this so it has the same effect on you, but I hope I have come close to describing the effect it had on me.


Can I state, right up front, that I’m a scientist? Seriously. I studied physics to a high level. That’s how I trained. My first job was in the Atomic Energy Authority. Experiment, observe, draw conclusions, and try to build empirical laws. That’s how my world works.

There is an explanation for everything, that everything is understandable. If we don’t understand why something happens, it just means that we haven’t discovered the reason yet.

There are many examples to cite. We go out, and the sky above us is blue. For millennia, it just “was”. But now, we understand why. It gets dark, and we see specks of light in the curtain of night. And we understand, now, that they are stars. And we know how stars work, the method they use to create the light we see. And we know how they orbit, and can predict their paths hundreds of years in advance.

Or, in the field of medicine. I had my COVID booster yesterday, and, think about the miracle of it. That we understand how vaccines work, that giving ourselves a small dose of something, we trigger our bodies to protect themselves against it.

My point is, that humans learn. We start off without a clue, and we find things out. There is a reason for everything, even if we don’t know what it is yet. The sky is blue because other wavelengths are scattered by the atmosphere, not because God happened to have some paint left over.

I want to get that out of the way, because there is no way I can convey the absolute terror that I felt after I met someone who claimed to be a witch, and I couldn’t process it. All I can really do is recount how I felt, what I saw, how shook up I was afterwards.

I was at university – the height of my science training.

This woman was my then-girlfriend’s best friend. She was great company and, to tell the truth, I had the wrong girlfriend. But we were all young once.

We were talking one night, just the pair of us. No booze, no drugs. The subject turned to my grandfather, who had died four years before, and who this woman could not have met. She told me various things about him that I don’t think she could have known otherwise. And in the process of the evening, she disclosed to me that she was a witch. Really, no shit! That’s what she told me.

I know, I know. That’s exactly what I thought, at first. That she must have found out these things somehow. I just didn’t know how.

All these years later, following deliberate attempts to put it out of my mind, I can remember few specifics of the conversation. I can, however, remember my emotion.

The most uncomfortable part was when she talked about my smoking habit. “He doesn’t like you doing it, you know.” Like as though he was sitting there, in the corner of the room. Maybe, to her, he was. In fact, my grandad smoked like a proverbial chimney and this was likely what caused the heart attack which killed him.

But, at that part, I was merely uncomfortable. Lots of people smoked, but the health risks were becoming increasingly clear. Lucky guess?

She told me that the “powers” were stronger in me than in most people. I know. Total flannel. I’m replaying Star Wars in my head. She spins everyone this line, right?

There was one other specific that I remember. This woman was into her crystals. Magical powers and whatnot. Hocus Pocus bollocks. But she had a crystal pendant. It fell nine or ten inches when you dangled it.

And, do you know what happens when you dangle a pendant? It does little figures of eight, almost, gradually losing its energy. Ever decreasing circles, kind of thing.

Well, I held this pendant – let’s be clear there was no physical contact with this woman – and this pendant swung around in small circles as any momentum dissipated because of the friction in the chain.

Then the woman warned me what she was about to do. She just looked at the crystal on the end of the pendant. And it stopped dead. Did not move a millimetre.

No touching, remember?

Like I said, I can’t possibly do this story justice. For one, many of the details of this night, over thirty years ago, are gone. I can’t expect you to feel any of what I felt, so I’m not even going to try. But I can at least tell you how freaked out I was. A diehard sceptic, I hate not understanding things. I racked my brains for explanations but found none.

And my only conclusion was simply that some things, we just don’t understand – call them supernatural if you wish. And how, even if we are 99% certain that something is bullshit, there is still that 1%.

This account is totally honest. I have lost details over the years, and I’m not making any attempt to conceal this. But I remember that sinking feeling, as my neat scientific world dissolved around me – like it was yesterday.  I bet you’re all better at remembering moods than details, too.

This woman’s name was Noreen, and this took place in the Halls of Residence during my first year at university in Cardiff, UK. I was nineteen and she was no more than a couple of years older.

The Devil’s Chariot

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where they asked us to:

Tell us about your favourite music video.

I just fancied writing some flash for this one, and I’ll post one of my favourite videos at the end.


Vito was relieved. Just this one fare before the night shift finished. Not a run-of-the-mill pickup, but these jobs happened from time to time. After a busy shift, Vito simply wanted his bed. Just this one last fare.

He’d been hired by a law firm, Imbroglion, Frode e Truffa. Vito had heard of them. From the TV News, mostly. Their name seemed to crop up with every high-profile hoodlum who was ever arrested. But to Vito, their money was as good as anybody else’s.

Shortly before six o’clock, he pulled his spotless black Mercedes into the prison’s car park. He was to take his ride, a man called Barucci, back into the city, and then, Vito’s long shift was done. At this time of the morning, he thought, he should be back in twenty minutes. In forty, hopefully, he’d finally be snoring. He glanced at his watch, before pulling a marker pen from the glovebox, taking a sniff, then writing the name on a piece of white Perspex. The car park opposite the drab, grey building was empty, and Vito probably did not need the sign, but just in case… He adjusted his sweat-stained Hawaiian shirt, as he settled in to wait, and from the corner of his eye saw a guard emerge from the Reception Block and set about raising a flag. At this time of the morning, the prison was quiet, except for dogs barking in the distance. Even before the day had begun, they sounded angry. Soon, the officer returned into the building, leaving the flag blowing gently in the summer breeze.

Inside the prison, two more guards walked along the otherwise-empty balcony. They passed cell after cell, until they reached their goal.

A tall, mean-looking guard hammered on the door, as if to rouse its occupants, an act which might have been convincing, were their quarry not already fully dressed. ready and waiting for them. He had been anticipating this day for the last seventeen years. The guard’s shorter, sweating accomplice fumbled with a long chain of silver keys, before making his selection and pushing it smoothly into the lock. Turning the key, he pushed the door open and, in the same movement, stepped backwards. The mean guard read from a clipboard.

“Prisoner KJ4503 Barucci, step out.”

An elderly, greying man emerged from the cell, a plastic carrier bag tucked under his arm. Despite his age, he carried no extra weight, and he stared at the mean guard with malevolent blue eyes.

Undaunted, the officer continued. “Follow me”, he instructed, leaving his partner to relock the cell. The men marched, side by side, toward the Admin block. At the end of the corridor, the shorter guard again selected a key from his chain, and swung open the heavy door. The three advanced along a second balcony, exactly the same as the first. Looking through the floor and ceiling grilles, they could see more identical balconies, above and below. At last, the men passed a manned station which marked the entrance to the block, and they were released into a courtyard.

Outside, even at that hour, it was clear that this would be another sticky day, as the three walked the length of a football pitch towards an identical, concrete building. They passed the kennels; the dogs were quieter now, enjoying their breakfast.

The mean guard referred to his clipboard once again, as the three were admitted into the Admin Block. Instructed to stand behind a line until called forward. The prisoner showed a bewildered expression, as he realised that the block was otherwise empty. An adjutant appeared at a counter, behind another grille.

“Next”, the man commanded. The prisoner glanced around, but just confirmed his solitude. He stepped forward.

“Name”, barked the man once more, and the prisoner, sensing his closeness, complied.

The adjutant, in turn, disappeared, returning minutes later with a shoebox containing items which had been confiscated on arrival. First issuing the prisoner with a khaki-green kitbag, the adjutant navigated an itemised list, returning the items to the prisoner, one by one. In one final act of bureaucracy, the prisoner was instructed to sign a receipt. Placing each item into the kitbag, in a final show of defiance, the prisoner jerked the drawstring to close the bag.

This final stage complete, the three men exited the block. But this time, they turned right, and walked the short distance to the prison’s main gate. One last time, the guard read from his clipboard, and another guard exited a gatehouse. He opened a regular-sized door, set into the larger gate, and beckoned the prisoner to step outside.

Hearing the door click shut behind him, Carlo Barucci set his kitbag down, stretched, then took an enormous breath as he closed his eyes and sniffed the air as he realised that his name had finally been returned. After forever, he exhaled, opened his eyes once again, and began scanning for a limo. Had his associates delivered?

Formative nostalgia again. I was in my first year at college when the movie Running Scared came out. Two Chicago cops, on vacation about as far away in the US as possible, down in Key West, where of course they fall in love with the different lifestyle. There’s a good montage in the movie, set to Sweet Freedom and it truly does look beautiful down there.

The Keys was one of those places I never quite got to. When I first met Mrs Bump, we talked about a holiday down there, and I had just the place in mind. Little Palm Island. But this place was so luxurious, and presumably pricey, it was honeymoon territory. Once in a lifetime stuff.

As it happened, when we did actually get married, we only had three weeks between the decision and the registry office. So a holiday we had already booked, in the Carcasonne area in the deep south of France, became our honeymoon. Everything to do with our wedding was low-key, which was what we both wanted. Only two witnesses knew about it beforehand. Her close friend, and mine.

To be honest, I think I’d have been bored on LittlePalm Island anyway.

Craftsmanship

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were asked to:

Share a song that drove you crazy?

Do you remember Milli Vanilli? They were a Euro pop act at the turn of the Nineties. They were big here and even won a Grammy for “best newcomer”.

They mimed. None of their records were them singing. They were just two pretty boys, placed at the front of the stage to make punters drool. They got found out, crashed and burned, the Grammy went back, and presumably they are serving hamburgers to this day.

Continue reading “Craftsmanship”

A Disorderly Queue

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were given the duet 7 Seconds by Neneh Cherry and Youssuf N’Dour and asked to:

Tell us a story about an event that spans just seven seconds.

I also wrote on Fandango’s One Word Challenge on Thursday (here). I always try to write a humerous limerick, and the rhyme that day was about a hapless chef who makes a new dish by combining crab and ice cream. Let’s just say his diners were left inflatulated!

That “hapless chef” idea tickles me, so I came up with a sequel. It also fits the 7 Seconds prompt, but I leave it as an exercise for the reader, to determine exactly how.

Continue reading “A Disorderly Queue”

Pilgrim

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were given Summertime by Janis Joplin and asked to:

Write an elegy to summer.

In vivid costume, peacock blue,
Under sultry summer sun,
A throng arrives at Ladbroke Grove,
To carnival they’ve come.

Banana yellow, brilliant white,
The main parade, the rainbow swirls,
With sunburnt orange, headdress gole,
The stoops, the jumps, the moves, the whirls.

A thousand systemsaset the tune,
On every corner, hum the theme,
Cacophony of much-loved sounds,
Fuelling vision, fuelling dream.

A gastronome’s Carribean delight,
Of plantain, yam, goat, chicken, rice,
A glutton’s dream, unbounded choice,
Have just arrived in paradise.

Early adulthood, I would visit the Notting Hill Carnival each year. It took placethat last weekend in August, which is a bank holiday in the UK.

That timing seemed significant, because everything starts moving again in September, so this felt like a massive blowout to celebrate the end of summer.

I can remember going with a few girlfriends. Mostly, it was me that was really into the event, they came along because they’d heard of it and wanted to see for themselves. One Jamaican girlfriend, however, was a young mum and introduced me to “children’s day”, which preceded the main carnival days. That’s a nice touch, I think.

It started in the mid Sixties as a Carribean carnival, and just grew. By the time I started going it was popular, but now they measure estimated attendances in the millions. That’s too many people for me. They call it Europe’s Biggest Street Party (it takes place just on open roads) and I wouldn’t argue.

I found some images on the web.

Primeval

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were given Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft by The Carpenters and asked to:

Write a story about first contact.

Once upon a time…

“… and so, in conclusion”, Colonel Clucker mustered as statesman-like a voice as she could find, “I would like to present you with this small token from the people of Coopillion, to symbolise the future bonds we hope to forge between our two, great species.”

And with that, Colonel Clucker nodded to Private Pecker, who stepped carefully forward, holding a regally purple, velvet cushion, upon which had been placed a single brown egg, warm from basking in the sunlight.

There had been much discussion about this act at the Chicken High Council. The planet’s living conditions were tolerable, but the planet’s main occupants, the humans, were in general a primitive, barbaric specie. So primitive, in fact, that there had been a long debate about whether it was even worth making contact.

Had it not been for Private Pecker, whose chance remark, that humans would benefit from eating eggs to increase their intelligence, had been overheard by an elder.

And thus were sown the seeds of the idea. To contact the humans, but at the same time to present them with a gift which would hopefully bring their intellects up to the level of the chickens. Their own, unfertilised eggs. Useless, unfertilised, to chickens, but containing the ideal blend of vitamins and nutrients to promote brain growth in humans.

A whole brigade had been dispatched from the CCC – the Chicken Catering Corps – to create as many mouth-watering recipes as possible, and Pecker was immensely proud that she herself, having been assigned to oversee the project in recognition of her original idea, had masterminded the delicate intricacy of the soufflé.

And, finally, they were prepared. Colonel Clucker’s breast had swelled with pride, as she learned that she was to lead the greeting party, and she felt a tremendous sense of achievement now that her task was complete. The chickens had successfully made contact.

The three humans, however, were quite unprepared for such an eloquent speech, and Clucker was slightly perturbed when one of them left the scene, then returned a moment later, his hand glinting in the sunlight.

Half Baked

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were given Hotblooded by Foreigner and asked to:

Write a haiku that features the word “hot.”

My bakery job,
Bewildered when iced buns flew
from shelves like hot cakes.

Yearnings

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were given Excerpt from a Teenage Opera by Keith West and asked:

Please tell us about something you miss.
Continue reading “Yearnings”