Sunday Short Story – Late Home

This story follows on from previous tiny tales about Lauren, but can be read a a stand alone tale; after all, the people Lauren meets also have no idea what happened to her…

Nobody believed me, why would they, but I had no choice but to tell the truth. I could not just walk back into my life, not when I had brought back two people from the future.

Why me, an ordinary forty year old mother and teaching assistant? I suppose it could have happened to anyone who visited the Ladies at that busy London Wetherspoon, couldn’t find their way out and went through the wrong door into the future.

The end of the twenty first century is far from what I imagined. A perfect storm of situations led to a future that looked more like the past; humans had managed to save the planet, but not their civilisations.

I must not speculate or ramble; I am writing this letter to put down what little I do know in the hope that someone will take notice. I am sending this to experts, those with a voice in the world and the imagination to not dismiss me… King Charles, David Attenborough, the science chap that does that podcast… I just need one of you to answer my letter.

The two people I have brought back with me are an officer called Billings, who initially was most helpful and understanding, though she is still convinced I am the mythical figure Lauren of London. She is so traumatized from her experience of London in 2023 that I’m not sure she will be of much help. The man is called Doctor Chowdry and I think he is what passes for the top scientist among the Bunker People. Scraps of life from earlier decades escaped destruction and in oral tradition knowledge was passed down his family. He is certainly clever as he worked out how to get us back to 2023, though it took him a few weeks and he didn’t quite get the date right.

Thus it was that we arrived back in London on the day of King Charles’ coronation, eighteen days after I left, but in the right place. There were the three of us in the Ladies at Wetherspoon. Luckily a trio of chattering women barged in through a door so at least I could see the way out; I hustled my companions through it before the women noticed one of us was a bloke and we were all dressed strangely. I realised we were late when I saw a missing persons poster in the corridor…

Were you in this Wetherspoon on the evening of Tuesday 18th April 2023?

The flattering photo of me dressed up for the ‘do’ we went to in March looked nothing like the person I had just glimpsed in the mirror. I had exchanged my sackcloth for the bunker clothes the civilians wore in the bunker, but they were hardly flattering.

We had tried to plan how we would arrive inconspicuously, but the main problem was that I had lost my handbag during my narrow escape from the great cat attack. I had no money, no proof of identity and no way of getting home.

Upstairs in the restaurant it was daylight; the place was packed and in celebratory mood. I tried to slip us out quickly, but had time to see a chap reading a newspaper with the front page proclaiming Coronation Day. Outside were crowds of people, though I knew we could not be on the route of the royal procession. Police were everywhere, security I supposed as there were protestors. Then the full implication of my position hit me. My family must be distraught, perhaps thinking I was dead. How could I contact my husband, should I tell one of the police officers? No, they would think I was trouble of some sort, they were already arresting a protestor. I was overwhelmed with panic, but that was nothing compared with the terror I saw in the faces of my two companions.

A woman’s voice behind me spoke in a calming tone. I hung on tight to the others as they flinched at the sight of the uniform.

‘You look like you need help, or perhaps just a cup of tea, a day like this can be very overwhelming. We’re doing refreshments in the hall over there.’

The Salvation Army, hurrah, yes I did need a cup of tea and as they are used to not judging people, salvation was literally at hand. We did not look much stranger than the other people gathered round various tables and as we collected our tea I told the woman I needed help.

‘You help look for missing people and put people back in touch?’

‘Yes we certainly do.’

‘I need to get in contact with my husband.’

‘How long have you been away?’

‘Eighteen days.’

‘Oh, that’s not long, are you able to go home or do you want a third party to speak to him?’

‘It’s complicated and I haven’t got a phone or any money so I think that would be a very good idea.’

So, good people reading this, that is how I was initially reunited with my family, who also don’t believe me. You will perhaps have heard about me on the news, but I plead with you to contact me personally and listen to the story the three of us have to tell.

Thursday Tiny Tale -Last Words

Where can it be?

Goodness knows, we’ve looked in all the likely places, but there’s so much junk stuffed everywhere.

Don’t sneer, could be valuables hiding amongst the rubbish.

Ah ha, this could be interesting, Diary 1949 …

’I am determined to write in this every day, so many exciting things happening to me at the moment. Tricia had a new year’s party and her brother chatted to me!!! He is going to call me on our new telephone.’

Oh no, that’s all she wrote, bet he didn’t phone her.

Here’s a hopeful looking envelope…

‘To my grandchildren’

Bad luck on that front Mum…

Open it then.

‘I know everything is electronic now, but newspapers are a wonderful record of everyday life. I saved a newspaper from every eventful day starting with the day Giles was born right up to William and Catherine’s royal wedding; if you’re doing a school project or even a history degree they could come in handy.’

Oh that would be interesting, a newspaper from the day I was born…

Bad luck Giles, we put all those boxes of papers in the recycling bin when we tackled the loft, anyway, you can look them up on line…

Now this envelope looks a lot more hopeful.

‘If you find a pair of pink gloves I bought them on holiday. I remember taking them out of my suitcase, then I never saw them again.’

Perhaps she wasn’t joking when she said there was a secret drawer in that awful old bureau.

Oh look, our homemade birthday cards…

Never mind those, get a tape measure and work out if there’s a false back, or feel around for some secret levers.

We’re not taking it to Antiques Roadshow, let’s try that small panel with a screwdriver.

Well I never, why would she leave a letter to me hidden away?

Open it then, don’t keep us in suspense.

‘My Darling Giles, you always wanted to know the truth; the truth about your father.  I’m afraid I have to tell you, hard though it will be to come to terms, my husband was your father and the father of your younger brothers. I know he was very boring, but I’m afraid I did not have an affair with some splendidly exotic chap, goodness knows where you get your good looks from.

Oh at last, you’re no better than us Darling Giles, even if you were Mum’s favourite.

But is that it then, what happened to

‘All will be revealed in the house when I’m gone.’

She said that about ten years ago, probably forgot to leave the clues.

Now we’re getting somewhere –

 Last Will and Testament

Thought she said she wasn’t going to leave one.

Perhaps that’s the surprise we were supposed to get. Right, let’s open it

WH Smith make your own will kit

She never filled it in…

Tuesday Tale -The Book

Tonight’s tale follows on from last week’s or you can read as a stand alone story.

The book had been locked away again; I had only read the opening lines of Door To The Future, published 2028, but enough to know the narrator shared my name and had also been propelled into the future. There must be many Lauren Smiths around, this book need not have anything to do with me, just a coincidence, though how many others of my namesake had gone through the wrong door?

How did it come to be written and if it was about me, was it reassuring proof that I returned to my own time? It was unlikely I had written it, I had no imagination, as my English teacher was always telling me. Before we had the children I worked in an office and wrote reports, dealt with finances. I liked that world of precision and writing a romantic fantasy novel would never have occurred to me. Someone else could have written it, but I knew no writers to tell my story to.

‘Lauren, Miss Smith, did you hear what I said dear, you must be tired, we must let you sleep.’

I had been so deep in thought I had lost track of what my rescuer and his mother were talking about.

‘No, I can’t sleep, I need to find out how this happened to me and how I can get back.’

‘No hurry dear, your time will stay the same, that’s what the book says.’

As they tried to explain their world I realised I could understand their past and my future better than they possibly could. I surmised Billings in the bunker had a better grasp of what had happened; my stomach churned as I wondered if she had made it safely back to the bunker or had she been eaten? I asked my rescuer what creature it was that attacked me.

‘A great cat, he wouldn’t eat you, got plenty of venison and beef out there, they just like to play with the weaker humans.’

The creature I glimpsed was a lot bigger than mythical black panthers spotted in the west country, it didn’t make sense.

As if she read my thoughts the mother spoke.

‘My mother told me strange creatures they had never seen escaped from the borytrees when everything stopped.  Signtists made them from gentic earing. They mixed with other animals that went to the wild…’

It made sense, if normal society broke down the creatures we kept for our entertainment or experiment would escape, not just domestic dogs and cats, but wolf packs lovingly supervised in Scotland, animals in the zoo and wild boars that were already roaming some woodlands. I recalled Billings’ words that farm animals were much better at survival than humans, then there were large deer populations breeding happily with no natural predators.  

‘How did everything stop?’

‘Pewters ran the world, then they turned off the cities.’

A simplistic explanation, but with no books and only stories passed down it must be hard for them to understand. When I worked in the office I was efficient, liked everything to be precise. If I had worked in pre computer days I would have kept immaculate ledger books and orderly filing cabinets; unless the office burnt down all that information would be safe and nothing would hold up our work. If the computers ‘went down’ in our office, or worse, the whole company’s computers were down it was a disaster, we were helpless and expected the tech people to sort it out. I Lauren Smith could not fix a computer let alone make them. If power started failing there would be no basic services or computers; society would grind to a halt.

‘But survivors, hunters… our people knew how to get food’ said my rescuer.

I would have been a bunker person, so would my friends. It was obvious who would survive, anyone who had been in the armed forces, knew how to use a gun, survive under tough conditions. Even those people we look down on who go out shooting grouse or culling deer and enjoying the stalking, they had the last laugh. Farmers, they deserved to survive, presumably they knew more about animals than the rest of us and probably had a shot gun handy and could kill a sheep or cow if need be.  I knew little about life outside the city and now it seemed my lifestyle was pathetic when it came to awful disasters.  But still there was a big question.

‘I don’t understand how the cities in my time could crumble, we have huge buildings everywhere, tall buildings, ancient stone buildings, where did they all go?’

‘There were wars, then the big destruction came. Weapons flew by themselves, even when the wars stopped. Weapons dropped out of the sky and flattened cities, my mother remembers even from the countryside where they had escaped they could see the fire and smoke on the far horizon.  The city people who survived were hiding underground.’

In my cosy little world of the family and my teaching assistant job we watched the news, but still felt removed from all the awful events. Syria, Ukraine, it was possible for cities to be flattened under relentless attack and unmanned drones were a reality.

Even if I took the hunters and bunker people back to my time right now it was probably too late to unravel events already set in motion. I looked down at the uncomfortable rough cloth I was wrapped in and at the rough clothes of the man and his mother. Even if we could get back to 2023, who on earth would listen to us and our tale?

Tuesday Tiny Tale 500 – Doors

‘Don’t be long, we’ll have to leave for the theatre in a few moments.’

‘Hmm, looks like the Ladies is downstairs, send out a search party if I’m not back in five ha ha.’

I was not surprised to find a choice of narrow corridors and dark doors at the bottom of the rickety stairs. We were in one of those large Wetherspoons in an old interesting rescued building, with cosy nooks and different levels. More fun than the minimalist, exorbitant restaurant Jay had wanted to try, even if the food was exactly the same as our local Wetherspoons back home. One of my hobbies was clocking up new Wetherspoons on our holidays and mid week breaks, especially if they had interesting toilets.

I ventured down the most likely corridor, past a kitchen, a door to a yard and several staff only signs. The very last door looked hopeful and I was not disappointed; a huge circular space with higgledy piggledy cubicles, sofas, vanity benches and fairy tale mirrors. There was no one else around so I sneaked out my phone and took a few pictures for my blog. I could also put some on that new blog, Tuesday Toilets.

It was the mirrors that confused me as I was blasted by the gothic hot air drier. Where was the door out? Where was the door I had come in? I opened the cleaner’s cupboard and baby changing. I looked at my watch and wondered if Jay would send down a search party.

Now I was beginning to panic. I tried to calm down and work my way round logically trying every door and all the mirrors. I hoped Jay would send a search party.

I nearly fell through a mirror, it must have swivelled. Thank goodness. But as it closed behind me I realised it was the wrong door. This was not the corridor I had come down, no sign of the stairs back up. This corridor sloped down, but at least if I followed it I would either end up in another kitchen and apologise or go out of the fire exit. I should phone Jay to tell him what was going on.

There was no signal on my phone. Then I heard a man’s voice.

‘Come on Luv, hurry up, we’ve got to get down to the bunker, didn’t you hear the sirens?

A man in a  strange uniform with a large torch appeared at my side and pushed me through a door I had not noticed. I was blinded by the light; a vast space that didn’t make sense. A new modern tube station, but there weren’t any new tube lines in this part of London.

‘Which sector Madam?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know where I am. Is this the underground station?’

‘We should be so lucky, wouldn’t we all like a train out of here… happy days eh? Now tell me which sector you are registered with so we can get you swiped in. We need to make sure everyone is accounted for after what happened last week.’

Tuesday Tiny Tale – Backstage

Charlotte was looking forward to open day at the Hambourne Theatre Royal. A rather grand name for a building that looked like it had seen better days. She had not seen inside, it was one of the places on her list as a new resident of Hambourne. Joining the Hambourne Players had not been on the list, but it seemed a good way to join a backstage tour of the theatre and get inspiration for another adventure for Lottie Lincoln, accidental crime investigator.

Mothering Sunday was best avoided this year and the open day sounded like a Mothers’ Day free zone. As she stepped into the foyer she hoped she would recognise at least one or two of the Hambourne Players and hopefully one or two of them might recognise her. If she ever progressed to an active role in the group they would soon find out she could not act, but hopefully she could paint some scenery, be the prompt or even contribute a few lines to the play they were hoping to write.

A man in a suit was herding people into groups; there was a good turnout and three tours were setting off at the same time. Charlotte sidled over when she heard Hambourne Players being called, she felt like the new girl at school again, especially when someone called out ‘Charlotte Charlington?’

Why did her parents have to ensure she was always going to end up being called Charley by everyone except her parents?

A few of the group stared, some didn’t even turn to look at the newcomer, but a few smiled.  She was relieved when the theatre manager started addressing their group and she could avoid having to talk to anyone or worse still have no one wanting to chat to her.

What a lovely theatre, all plush red and opulence from another age, but obviously in need of a lot of loving care, as the manager was quick to point out. She trotted along enthusiastically with the group as they passed through narrow doors and down steep steps. What to stars and theatre staff were narrow corridors and shabby small dressing rooms, were to Charlotte scenes of mystery and dark intrigue for her new novel.

Her excitement grew as they climbed up yet more narrow stairs and came out onto the stage. Real ropes and pulleys and strange equipment in dark spaces high above their heads. A technical chap was now explaining how ropes, weights and counter balances worked and the dangers that lurked in an environment deliciously free of health and safety.  Charlotte resisted the temptation to ask if they ever had any nasty accidents. It was then her phone emitted a jolly tune.

‘Mum, where on earth are you, looks like you’re on board a sailing boat.’

‘Shsh Maddy, you didn’t say you were going to Facetime this morning, thought you were going to spend all day in bed as it’s Mothers’ Day.’

Charlotte tried to become invisible and dodge behind some black curtains.

‘I am in bed Mum, they brought me breakfast and I am going to stay here allll… day till the roast beef is ready this evening.’

Charlotte resisted the temptation to say she never got a lie in when they were young, let alone languishing all day… but her main thought was to get her daughter off the phone.

‘Can we Facetime this evening…

‘Oh, okay, I thought you would be sad and lonely…’

Charlotte sighed, now Maddy was going to take umbrage.

‘…what are you doing and who’s that weird bloke talking?’

‘Shsh they’ll hear you, I’m on a theatre backstage tour…’

The technical chap was saying something about grand pianos and raising platforms as Charlotte hurriedly stuffed her phone back in her bag as if she had never taken it out in the first place. The stage floor felt rather uneven, very uneven, Charlotte felt herself go off balance as she heard someone say ‘SWITCH IT OFF.’

‘No I’m fine, just lost my balance for a moment.  No please don’t call the first aid officer… ’

Charlotte looked up at the bemused faces above her and cringed, but at the same time her mind retreated into the world of Lottie Lincoln, a night at the theatre, an actor on stage mysteriously disappearing…

Saturday Short Story – Family Fun

Karly King was not looking forward to her ninth birthday, too many presents and a big party at the local bowling alley. She didn’t even like bowling and everyone would be watching as she sent the glittering pink junior bowl straight into the gutter.

Everyone was up, she could hear her brothers fighting already and Dad was yelling Breakfast Readeee. Karly wondered what concoction he had come up with today; he was having a vegan phase, ever conscious of the need for new challenges. Her mother was exempt from the vegan menus as she was pregnant.

Breakfast in pyjamas as it was her birthday, new pyjamas chosen to look good in the photos. Her parents had gone completely over the top as usual and the big family kitchen was adorned with number nine balloons and Happy Birthday Girls banners everywhere. Why did she have to share her birthday, how she longed to be an only child. Out of habit she put on her video face and smiled.

‘Last one down as usual Karly, just like when you were born. Happy Birthday Darling, our little miracle.’

The breakfast was quite nice. Karly smiled to herself as she spotted the flattened ‘Happy Earth Breakfast’ delivery box peeking out of the recycling bin.

‘Lovely breakfast Daddy.’

She would not give the game away, everything in her family must appear real and of course HAPPY.

At school other children envied her family, either wanting to be best friends or teasing them mercilessly. Karly only had one real friend, shy little Betty who lived in a pokey flat with her abandoned mother. She loved visiting Betty as she was treated like a normal child and neither mother nor daughter asked her how the rest of her family were. Betty was too scared to go round to Karly’s house and Karly guessed her protective mother would not let her anyway. The rest of the family did not even know Betty existed, everyone assuming Karly was with one of the others if they noticed she wasn’t at home.

At the breakfast table everyone was debating who would do best at the bowling alley. They had all been practising so they would look good on the day. Her sisters were arguing as to who was going to wear which colour to the party. Identical outfits, lurid leggings and jazzy tops with matching patterns, but each a different colour scheme, had been made by their personal designer. If Karly ever tried to complain about the family lifestyle she would be reminded it was their living and how envious other girls were and how Karly would not like being poor.

It was not easy being a sextuplet, especially in the middle of a huge family whose lives had been documented since before the girls were born, with a few changes of television channel along the way. Six Children Plus Six More had been a big hit, with viewers fascinated how parents who already had six children had found themselves expecting sextuplets. Then before interest could wain, twin boys were on the way. The six girls were Mrs Knight’s only caesarean delivery; quintuplets had been expected, but Karly had been found lurking at the back, the tiniest of the bunch and not expected to live, adding gravitas to the series.

Mr and Mrs Knight gazed lovingly at their huge family, they did love all their children, even if they couldn’t remember their names. It was not easy competing with all the other Big Family documentaries, Twenty Two Children and Counting,  Twins Every Time, Tripple Tripple Trouble and Conjoined, The Family That Sticks Together. So it seemed natural to keep having more babies and thinking up more domestic dramas. It was unfortunate that the new headmaster at the primary school had banned cameras; rather hypocritical as the production company had given a lot of books, musical instruments and other extra curricular items to the school. But at least the first programme in  series ten would have the annual drama of the birthday party, the Hollywood Bowl taken over completely by the family with two guests for each child.  Excitement on the lanes would be followed by the ‘Fantastic Feast’ then over to the park for the girls’ birthday surprise, a pony each.

Tuesday Tiny Tale – A Breath of Fresh Air

‘One large rucksack containing the following;

One set of six keys, one bottle of water, one diary, one iPhone.

One yellow purse containing one note each of the following denominations – £20, £10, £5 and £7.23  in change, one Visa debit card in the name of Lottie Lincoln, six assorted membership cards, an assortment of coffee shop reward cards, one book of second class stamps with one stamp remaining and ten business style cards in the name of Lottie Lincoln, author.

One makeup bag with assorted toiletries, one facemask, one box of plasters, one packet of Ibuprofen, one large notebook, two pens, one large beach pebble, one copy of Big Issue magazine, one Mars bar and one tied plastic bag containing unknown substance.’

At this point Lottie could not resist interrupting.

‘That bag only contains plastic bags, you know, for the recycling bin at the Co Op.’

‘If you say so Madam, but I am not permitted to open it here, it will have to go to the lab for analysis.’

‘Well not just bags, any soft plastic, like those bits you peel off the food containers, you have to wash them of course, especially if it was fish…’

‘Can we just get on, I’m sure you don’t want to be detained any longer than necessary… one carry tray containing six plants…’

Primulas, someone was selling them from their front garden, just before I went down to the beach…. And why am I being detained, I only came out for a breath of fresh air and a newspaper, I certainly did not expect this.’

‘Do you often pop out to buy a paper with a heavy rucksack equipped for an expedition?’

‘Hardly that, you should see what I take on a proper expedition. No, I just like to be prepared. So why have I been arrested?’

‘Why were you taking photographs in a restricted area?’

‘Oh, was that sign for real, how exciting, I wondered why that part of the beach was fenced off. I’m new in the area. I was just taking photos for my blog, Literally Lottie.’

‘And how long have you belonged to the activist group?’

‘What activist group… oh you mean all those lovely people with the Save Our Seas posters? I had only just met them when you lot turned up. I can’t see what they have done wrong and certainly you have nothing to charge me with.’

‘Yes I do. Under the Coastal Protection Act 1949, the removal of any natural material such as sand and pebbles from public beaches in the UK is illegal.’


Birthday Surprise

It’s my third birthday tomorrow. I don’t know why I suddenly had to come and stay with Granny or where Mummy and Daddy have gone. Maybe they went to buy my birthday present, maybe they have gone to get my puppy. I really want a puppy like Jacob has, a Doodle puppy. I keep asking, but Mummy and Daddy just smile and ask me if I would like a brother to play with instead. I said no, I would rather have a puppy.

Will they be back in time for my birthday?

Granny’s taking me home. We stopped at the petrol station to buy flowers for Mummy. I don’t know why, it’s not her birthday.

Daddy opens the door with his smiley face on.

‘Guess what Luke, we have a really big surprise for your birthday.’

Hurrah, I’m going to get a puppy, a big puppy like Jacob’s. I rush into the living room. Mummy’s lying on the sofa in her dressing gown, maybe we’re having a pyjama day, but I’ve got my clothes on, Granny never lets me have pyjama days. The puppy must be in the garden.

‘Happy birthday darling, aren’t you going to come and give me a cuddle?

Granny’s peering into a big flowery bag next to the sofa. She has a silly grin on her face.

‘Don’t you want to see your birthday surprise Luke’ says Mummy.

‘Is it a Doodle puppy?’

‘Why don’t you have a look.’

Daddy, Granny and Mummy all have their arms round me, I nearly fall into the bag.

Inside is a blanket, is the puppy wrapped up? There is something pink, a round pink blobby thing.  It’s a squidgy face, yuk…

‘It’s your new baby brother.’

WHAT! They said would I like a brother to play with, they didn’t say he would be a baby.

‘Have I got a puppy as well?’

‘No Darling, we’ll all be too busy looking after the baby to have a puppy yet. Perhaps when you’re both big boys.’

‘I am a big boy, you said I would be a big boy when I’m three.’

‘Do you want to help choose his name’ says Daddy.

‘No, he doesn’t need a name yet.’

The squidgy baby is making a noise, ow, my ears. Everyone is laughing except me and making a big fuss as if crying is clever. What is Mummy doing now?

‘Look, Mummy’s giving baby his breakfast.’

What sort of breakfast is that, wouldn’t he rather have Cheerios. I wonder if I’m going to get any other presents, like Lego. I wonder if Jacob would swap. Perhaps his mummy would like a baby and we could have his puppy.

Tuesday Tiny Tale – Birthday Girl

Finally the day has arrived, twenty one at last and I am going to have a big party. All the family are coming of course and some of my best friends, not all of them alas. Covid wreaked havoc with our social lives, but now it’s 2024 I think we have put that behind us. Of course the planet is still hovering on the brink of disaster, but hey let’s forget about that for one day, I’m going to have breakfast and open all my cards.

We’re having the do at that new hotel, very posh and a nice place to stay for those who have travelled. Dinner and dancing after, but informal as there will be lots of children. I wanted everyone to come and the visitors will span a century, can you believe that. The newest baby has been named Daphne after the amazing aunt who has just notched up one hundred years.

Here I am then, ready to greet all the guests. What nobody knows yet is that Charles and I are going to announce our engagement tonight, that will be a surprise for quite a few guests; all part of the excitement, life doesn’t get much better than this.

That meal was wonderful and now I must make my little speech before we release the children to let off steam.

Thank you everyone for joining me to celebrate my twenty first, it’s so wonderful to see everyone together after those Covid years and to be here with five generations of my family. I do have a little surprise for you. We have not known each other very long but Charles and I have decided to get engaged and we plan to have the wedding very soon, we don’t want to wait as he is ninety one. But Charles wants to add a few words… ‘

‘Well I never thought I would be getting married again, especially to a girl of twenty one, but that is the advantage of courting a young lady who was born in a leap year, 29th February 1940. How many great grandchildren we have between us we have lost count, but it’s wonderful to see both our families here. Here’s to the future.’

Saturday Short Story – Hambourne Noir

You may like to read the first tale about Charlotte in this blog.


Charlotte found inspiration for her new novel much quicker than she expected, but not in a way she welcomed. News spread fast in Hambourne, but while Charlotte enjoyed listening to local gossip she rarely took it seriously. As a newcomer she had no idea who they were talking about most of the time.

But today, sitting in the Hambourne Abbey Refectory, her favourite coffee stop, she heard shocked whispers at the next table then felt the gaze of the three women fall upon her. One of them she thought she recognised as the timid ‘mouse woman’ from the Hambourne Happy Creatives. She pretended to be absorbed in her phone, though she had no messages.

‘Charlotte isn’t it, you were at the group last week.’

Mouse Woman was addressing her.

‘Yes, yes, er I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.’

‘That’s okay, not many people do and when you’re new it’s hard isn’t it.’

Charlotte was happy to meet her again, she had been friendly and unintimidating at last week’s meeting.

‘Come and join us’ said one of the other women, who did look intimidating.

Charlotte imagined that mouse woman would not have issued the invitation herself, now she looked pleased to have official approval of her new friend. Like being the new girl at school, Charlotte felt pathetically grateful to be admitted to the inner circle.

‘I’m afraid we have heard some dreadful news Charlotte’ said the intimidating lady. ‘I gather you were a friend of the gentleman in question.’

Charlotte thought this unlikely as she didn’t have any friends in Hambourne yet and certainly not of the gentleman variety.

‘Oh I don’t think …’

Mouse Woman could not contain her excitement ‘Robert Falstaff, murdered.’

‘Oh no, are you sure, I mean perhaps it was natural causes, heart attack, not a suicide…’

‘Definitely murder’ said the intimidating woman.

‘Are you sure Erica?’ said Mouse Woman.

‘Yes Mini, he could hardly have stuffed his screwed up manuscripts in his mouth and cut his own hands off.’

There was a collective gasp and Charlotte felt quite sick. Hambourne Noir, what sort of place had she chosen to live? Mini the Mouse, for a moment she stifled a giggle at her appropriate name, Mini now had colour in her cheeks and it was the liveliest Charlotte had seen her. She looked around the café, a few other tables were occupied.

‘It wasn’t on the local news this morning and nobody else appears to be talking about it.’

Erica looked affronted at her doubt. ‘I happen to live a few doors away from Robert. I stepped outside to see what on earth all the commotion was this morning and there was Trudy his cleaning lady sitting on the steps of the ambulance, aluminium blanket round her, just like a TV drama.’

‘Lucky to get an ambulance,’ interrupted Mini ‘with all these strikes and hold ups at A&E, old Mr Reeves had to wait fourteen hours with his hip…’

Erica frowned ‘…so to cut a long story short I went over to see if Trudy was alright and insisted the police officers let her come inside my house and get warm, have a proper cup of tea and be interviewed away from prying eyes.’

‘You’re not supposed to give hot tea for shock’ said Mini.

‘That was hot sweet tea when my mother was with St. John’s, I didn’t put sugar in.’

‘But what did she say?’ The others were all agog.

“The blood will never come out of that Persian rug, Mr. Falstaff would be horrified at the mess.” She kept saying that over and over.’

Charlotte was wondering how long Erica was going to drag out the drama and indignant that this dislikeable woman should be privy to all the action when it was Charlotte who was the writer.

‘So how did you find out what actually happened Erica?’

‘Large drop of brandy in the tea and luckily the WPC, not that they call them that these days, had a call on her radio and went out into the hall to answer so we couldn’t hear. Managed to get the words out of Trudy before the police woman ushered me out of my own sitting room…’ she paused for effect then enacted the cleaning lady’s words. “Blue, his face all blue… and purple, bloated, then I noticed his hands were missing, well not missing, just not attached to his arms, placed neatly on his writing desk can you believe it… trail of blood all over the Persian rug, family heirloom it was, not that he had anyone to pass it on to…”

‘So she said quite a lot then’ said Mini.

‘Oh she was in a state.’

‘But who would have done such a dreadful thing’ said Charlotte. ‘Where is it you live Erica?’ she added, wondering if she could walk home that way and catch a glimpse of the drama scene, not the body obviously, but take in the atmosphere.

‘Well shall we say he wasn’t loved by everyone in Hambourne.’

‘Indeed, he was very nasty to Charlotte at the creative group’ said Mini.

Charlotte felt three pairs of eyes piercing into her soul, surely she wouldn’t be one of the suspects, just because Robert Falstaff had been scathing about her novel languishing on Amazon Kindle and her blog.

Read what happens next in the new blog…

Read tales from the Hambourne Chronicles in this collection.