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Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Last Early Rising as Published in Scribble

I threatened to start a series on magazines that take fiction writing, so here goes. I'm introducing the first along with a sample of the stories they take; one of my own from 2005, as I own copyright and don't have to ask permission.

Scribble is a small press magazine taking short stories from writers of all ability levels from the absolute newbie to the most professional. Publishing stories up to 3,000 words in length, they will consider almost all topics and genres. The tendency is for the published work to have a traditional rather than an experimental feel to it. These are good, straightforward, well-told tales. The magazine does not pay for all contributions but holds a competition which rewards three published stories with cash prizes of £75.00, £25.00 and £15.00, with a complimentary copy of the magazine sent to all contributors. They only want your best work, so please send something that you feel proud of. Rubbish isn't published here and the magazine has won a number of awards due to the quality of the writing it presents.
Full details can be found on the website at
And here is my story, published in the Autumn 2005 issue.

The Last Early Rising

‘What are you thinking about?’ Kerry stroked his abdomen.
‘How to kill our idiot neighbour without being caught.’
Her fingers migrated. ‘That’d certainly stop the rude awakenings on Sunday mornings, and I don’t suppose Dot would mind.’
Ross snaked an arm under Kerry’s slender neck. ‘No. She has the broken smile of the abused woman.’ He cupped her shoulder beneath long blonde locks he combed with loving fingers and turned her face to his.
             Conversation became intimate with touch and they employed their tongues to ends more rewarding than discussing the demise of the exasperating Archibald.
             As always, in the warmer months, the noise of Archibald’s hover mower woke Ross a minute after eight on Sunday morning. Powered by an enormous angry wasp trapped in a gigantic empty biscuit tin, it whined across the lawn in even, predictable swathes of sound. Louder as it attacked their boundary fence and less loud as it retreated to the far border. Different degrees of loudness. But never quiet.
             He could set his alarm by Archibald’s Sunday morning mowing. Except he didn’t need a clock. He didn’t want an alarm call on Sunday: it was their day of rest, the one day of the long week of work on which they might lie-in.
            Each weekday saw them rise before six to shower, gobble cereal and peck chaste cheeks before driving separate routes to work. Saturdays they must be up in time to find space in the overcrowded car park of the local supermarket, where they bought supplies to last the week. Kerry spent the rest of that day washing, cleaning, tidying. Ross maintained their house and garden.
            But on Sundays, when they neither wanted nor needed to get up, Archibald awoke them. His mower, far from silent, didn’t murder silently, it decapitated at full volume, slashing the shorn with its cacophony.
‘The grass must not grow higher than one and a quarter inches.’ Was Archibald’s mantra. ‘Regulations.’
Thanks to the architect, the houses, though detached, were placed to make sound echo between them, building and bouncing in volume until it burst through bedroom windows. A brilliant piece of social engineering for discord and maximum nuisance but not for peace and neighbourly consideration.
Ross glanced sideways at his wife; sleeping, oblivious of the noise for now. In a little while, sheer volume would defeat tiredness and force her eyelids to expose those gorgeous eyes. The colour of beryl, they contained the power to fix and undo him on those rare occasions he felt the need to assert masculine authority. One glance from those eyes and he buckled.
He disengaged himself from her soft embrace and, by diffuse light beneath the duvet, marvelled at her gentle lines, mounds and hollows. How, he wondered, had he caught and kept this lovely creature. Pale skin and dark mystery tempted him but he resisted, allowing her to sleep. He covered her exposed ear with the quilt, hoping it might muffle some of Archibald’s intrusion.
Leaving her asleep, he slipped from the bed, determined to stop that noise waking her.
Yesterday’s shorts and tee shirts lay discarded by the sofa. He pulled his over skin; cover enough for his mission. Kerry insisted his trainers live in the back porch until he either washed or replaced them with less aromatic footwear. He sniffed before he slid a foot into the first and understood her quarantine.
In the garden, he watched the upright man navigate his machine round the lawn in habit and wondered why he couldn’t bring himself to complain. Was he scared of Archibald’s rumoured past as a man who’d killed, albeit for King and country? Did he fear his stature and obvious strength even at eighty-two? Was it worry that he might hurt the old soldier’s feelings, if indeed the man harboured such weakness? Or did he believe he might cause more trouble than he hoped to resolve? One thing was certain; it wasn’t anxiety that their meaningless, infrequent and uninteresting chats through the fence might cease that prevented confrontation.
He wasn’t a coward: he’d boxed as a youngster, faced his fear of heights by swinging a hundred feet up in a loop of rope on the end of a crane to take pictures for a protest against development in the village. In a previous job, he’d faced angry mobs with equanimity. So, why couldn’t he talk to this obsessive old man and ask him to show consideration?
It was simple.
It’d make no difference. It’d be a waste of breath, of time, of effort. Archibald couldn’t be persuaded to see his actions as inconsiderate. He lacked powers of reasoning. He wasn’t a reasonable man. Ross could threaten him, though the soldier’s military and bullying past would render such threats pointless. He could appeal to Archibald’s better nature, except the old man possessed only one nature and that was ruled by habit, regulation and a total lack of imagination. He could ask his wife, Dot. But that seemed cowardly and, in any case, Archibald displayed no evidence of submitting to her demands.
So, he lived with the noise, harboured resentment and waited for the self-styled Major to die. Only then would they have peace on Sundays. Only then would Kerry sleep undisturbed.
Now, galvanised by the image of her in lovely repose, he’d decided to act. And, once resolved, he would perform. The question was no longer whether or when but only how?
It had to be now if he was to prevent further noise destroying the peace of Kerry’s dreams. Once Archibald finished executing each innocent blade of grass that dare rise above regulation height, he’d begin work on the edges.
The strimmer would come out. This tool of torture and death was less subtle than the mower that hovered on its own cushion of air. This device was truly demonical. It used brute force to tear off guilty protrusions of grass that dare overgrow space above tilled earth or stray across the straight edges of paving slabs. Each time its nylon cord attacked the enemy it shouted its victory. As often as not, it had no such victim to defeat but collided with stones or earth to send solid showers to rattle on fence, wall or concrete path. The drive of this device replaced the mower’s single angry wasp with the magnified whine of a thousand manic mosquitoes.
If they were very lucky, maybe once or twice in the annual cycle, Ross and Kerry might sleep so soundly even this failed to wake them. And they slept through green carnage oblivious of serial killing next door.
Then Archibald would get them with his last two means. The large, almost empty, plastic wheelie bin for rubbish was a perfect sound box for random explosive interruptions. He’d drop in the empty cans from last night’s solitary party or hit the side of the bin with the broom to disturb them with deep, resounding booms.
And if that failed, he’d row with Dot, his long-suffering wife.
‘Stupid bitch! I told you I want a proper Sunday roast. None of that bloody rabbit food!’ And breaking china would hide Dot’s trembling response.
He rowed at her with the door open, regardless of season. And he did it at the volume he’d used on parade grounds throughout his illustrious army career.
Dot had confided in whispers to Kerry. ‘He was a major only as far as it followed sergeant.
Archibald was a man for whom conversation was impossible. If not shouting like a drill sergeant, he whispered as he had to colleagues when behind the lines in war zones, intent upon killing the enemy in silence.
‘I’m dead certain the old sod put away at least eleven enemy soldiers with his bare hands, you know.’ Dot confessed to Kerry over coffee.
Once mowing was accomplished and the lawn brought into line with the regimental imperative, he’d begin the next phase of attack. Ross knew he must move with speed to prevent the second, third and fourth battles commencing on this particular morning.
The back garden was a place of peace, where songbirds chirruped, defensive blackbirds scolded. The loudest natural sound was the insistent cooing of a pair of love-struck feral pigeons that occasionally roosted on the cedar shed. As soon as Ross stepped through the door, which he closed silently behind him, his ears were assailed by the whine of the mower. He glanced through narrow gaps between the palings and estimated that Archibald was half way through the massacre.
The curtains were still drawn over the bedroom window above; Kerry remained asleep, for the moment.
Archibald was too intent on slaughter to notice Ross afoot on his own grass, trimmed the previous afternoon. The fence, six feet tall and made of palm-wide planks placed with vertical gaps too narrow to permit a pointing finger of accusation to penetrate, was an effective deterrent to casual observation.
Ross studied the situation for a moment. On the other side of his garden, beyond the less intimidating fence, rose a slow unkempt bank covered in wild flowers and grass, behind which flowed the canal. There were no houses beyond and the towpath lay across the water. Ross and Kerry’s was the last in the village. At the foot of their rectangle of domesticated ground lay the corner of a field bounded by ancient deciduous trees. In spring and summer, it sprouted vile acid-yellow oil seed rape. At present, the crop was wilting green, untidy and ripe, awaiting the harvesters. The garden was not overlooked.
The space between the houses was wide on Archibald’s side of the dividing fence, where a paved driveway lay on which no car ever parked. He didn’t drive and his two grown-up sons were too like their father to consider visiting their parents. The couple had few friends and rarely had visitors other than the milkman, who Dot waylaid for village gossip and the paperboy, who scooted away fast lest Archibald regale him for the state of the morning paper.
On their side of the fence, Ross had laid a narrow path of russet paving blocks edged with a thin border of stock, marigold and sweet william. Amongst these were the growing tendrils of Russian vines and honeysuckles, intended to cover the fence and provide effective screening and some sound insulation between them and the noisy soldier.
Ross entered his shed. The extendable pruners he’d bought, to lop the smaller branches from the trees at the end of his garden, had a pair of sharp strong blades eight feet from the plastic coated handles and a steel lever attached to the moveable, sprung blade by a length of sturdy green nylon cord. He knew exactly what he would do.
By the fence, he knelt and sought the orange cable feeding power to the mower. It snaked behind Archibald, wove in serpentine curves over paving stones and slithered up the single step and through the open kitchen door to the power point.
Ross acted at once. The pruners easily slid beneath the bottom of the fence and extended across the soil. A swift pull on the lever brought the blades together with the cable in between. There was a short, sharp flash of blue followed by a crack, as the power line was severed and silence, as the mower halted. Ross retracted his pruners before Archibald turned around.
He’d intended to retreat at once to the garden shed but curiosity stayed him. He watched the old man glower at the mower. Watched him fiddle with the switch and shake the machine. Watched him kick it.
Archibald marched into the house to harangue his wife for disconnecting the power. He came back out as swiftly as he’d entered, with words of unjust reproof leaving his sneering lips.
It was then he saw the cable lying severed and useless on the paving stones, a gap separating the two halves. He glared at the cable and growled. ‘Turn off the power, woman!’
He picked up both halves of the flex and, confident of absolute and immediate obedience from his wife, Archibald used his pocket knife to strip the plastic sheathing from the ends of the wires leading to the power point. With all three wires bared, he methodically twisted and folded the earth. He did the same with the live and neutral, connecting these two through his body. He jerked. Current flowed along aged arteries, veins and nerves, the points of contact smoking where metal tried to weld itself to flesh. He cried out; a sound between a startled grunt and a scream before he fell, still twitching, still connected.
Dot emerged and watched him jerking on the ground. It was some time before she made her way toward her fallen spouse.
Ross watched horror-struck as his intended act of nuisance moved toward murder. Dot merely stood and watched as the muscles slowly grew tired of fighting the greater impersonal energy and fell in with the flow of current.
‘Silly man. If you hadn’t been so mean, we’d have had that new fangled electricity box and the power would’ve cut out as soon as you touched it. I said your meanness would be the death of you.’
Dot looked up through the gaps between the palings and saw Ross. Briefly, her brown eyes grew horrified as they met his. But a strange wild look of hope quickly rearranged her features as she spotted the pruners in his hand. She turned away without a word and went back to the house. Seconds later she came out, detached the cable from his flesh and knelt beside her husband, sprawled on the paving stones. Her fingers found the place his pulse should be and she nodded. She placed a hand over his heart, shook him roughly and, satisfied he was no more, nodded again, this time emphatically.
Ross, silent and aghast, watched her through the narrow slats as she tottered upright, returned to the kitchen briefly and then crossed the half cut lawn toward her shed in the corner. She emerged, wearing gardening gloves and bearing plastic handled shears whose blades shone bright with sharpness. She closed the blades on the end of the cable snaking through the kitchen door and turned away as blue flashes melted gaps in the metal that sheared off a small length of flex. She opened the blades and lay the shears on the paving stones. The small piece of cable she tossed into the waving oil seed rape. With a last glance of silent entreaty at Ross, she returned to her house.
Distraught and shocked, Ross stood up unsteadily. He stared again at Archibald, cooling on the concrete slabs. Kerry was abruptly at his back. His eyes registered her fresh from bed; she must have dashed out very quickly, but his mind was disconnected.
‘Give me those.’
She tossed the pruners down and moved him to the garden bench.
‘Sit there and don’t move.’
Her green eyes searched him for a sign and she nodded when she found it. She disappeared indoors for seconds and returned in the shorts and tee shirt she’d so easily removed last night. Her feet wore trainers.
‘Stay here.’
She ran to the far end of the garden, carrying the pruners, and climbed the low wire fence into the field. Uncomprehending, he watched her cross the corner of the field and vanish into the strip of trees that lined the canal. Once she was out of sight, he realised she had gone and made to call her back.
‘Don’t shout out, Ross.’ Dot was by the body of her husband, whispering urgently to the living man whilst seeming to attend the corpse. ‘We don’t want to alert more folk than we must, do we?’
He closed his mouth.
‘I’ve called an ambulance. They’ll fetch the police, no doubt. I’ll not be mentioning your pruners.’ She prodded the cadaver. ‘One good turn deserves another.’
By the time Kerry returned, empty-handed, Archibald was just one more DIY statistic, covered by a sheet, and the police were on their way. Kerry’s shorts and tee shirt were wet with the sweat of effort and splashed with mud from the canal, her legs were scratched by brambles. Time away suggested she’d dumped the evidence a good distance down the waterway.
‘We should shower.’
She led him into the house.
‘There’ll be an inquest,’ Dot explained as Kerry poured tea, once the police had gone. ‘But the officer said the daft old fool should’ve kept them shears well away from that electric cable. Asking for trouble, that was. He’s taken them, as evidence, of course.’ She sipped delicately at her tea and smiled at Ross. ‘Just so’s you know, ‘e was well insured. I’ll replace my shears and your extending pruners.’ She pulled her sleeve up and examined dark, mottled skin along her upper arm.
‘I expect my last lot of bruises will’ve gone by the time we bury the old sod. I’ll wear short sleeves afterwards. Make a nice change.’
Kerry put a gentle hand beneath Ross’s chin and closed his mouth. ‘So, this Sunday was our last for early rising.’
Dot looked across to her half mown lawn. ‘Have to have a new cable fitted. Cut the grass myself in future. Sundays suit you? Half past six?’
Ross almost choked in disbelief.
Kerry laughed with Dot. ‘In the evening, Ross. In the evening.’ 

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