Tornado smiled. The feel of the leather harness on his shoulders again. Although he enjoyed standing in his stall while the men and women breathed strange, soothing sounds into his ear whilst scratching his nose and the top of his head, this was what he enjoyed. He heard a familiar shout and holding his head high, leant forward until his shoulders felt the familiar weight. He strained, eager to pull his load. He could hear the rattle of the chains and instinctively knew it was one of the newly felled trees he would be taking down to the mill. An easy job he thought. This would not make his shoulders sore. He heard his shoes ring on the smooth tarmac as he ambled down the road, not realising or caring that he left a trail of broken side shoots and twigs behind as he made his way to the sawmill.
Category Archives: Short story
The 15th August 1952, a night of tragedy for a small close-knit community on the wastes of Exmoor. Still remembered by many as one of the most tragic nights in living memory. Many tales of bravery have been told mixed with tales of woe, here is one such with a most poignant climax.
Grandfather Abe sat in his chair beside the old log fire. Stubborn, obstinate, he had refused to leave with his family when they had told him the house wasn’t safe and looked likely to collapse. The rushing waters of the swollen river rising ever higher at its back door. He insisted that the river had served him all his long life and would never hurt him now, but he was wrong. He was just drifting off to sleep when the end came and only awoke when he found himself in the water, miraculously unharmed by the tumbling masonry, all that was left of his beloved cottage as it toppled backwards into the torrent.
His wife, watching from outside, where she had waited in the cold and driving rain shaking her head at his obstinacy, gasped as she saw the collapsing building, safe from her position across the road from their front garden. Fearing the worst for her husband she rushed back to what had now become the water’s edge. It was not yet completely dark and suddenly she saw a shape in the water, arms thrashing wildly. It was Abe struggling to escape the fast flowing stream. His wife cried out, “Here Abe,” and bracing herself against the railings that were previously the garden fence, leaned through and reached out her arms to him. This appeared to give him renewed strength and in two strokes he reached the railings but the effort took it’s toll. He started to roll over. With superhuman effort his wife managed to grab hold of his braces and drag him towards her till he could grab the railings himself.
With one last heave she dragged him to the lowest bar. Exhausted she leaned her arm on the top rail but with the water around her feet she over balanced and with a loud cry toppled into the water to be swept away. Her body later recovered about half a mile downstream wedged under the remains of one of the many bridges destroyed by the flood. Old Abe never recovered from the shock of losing his wife in that way. He knew that it was only because of his attitude she had lost her life and was never the same again.
Picture from Bob Williams, Arx Cynuit
They congregated up in the hills, far away from judging eyes. This would be the last time that any of these people would see these Northern barbarians. Fight or die Cobanorum had said and they would follow this exhortation to the end. Far below they could see the torches zigzagging up the heather-clad slope. The Norsemen had beached their boats at sunset and after making their usual offerings to their ineffective Gods had decided the auspices were right for an assault on the lonely village.
Toothless old men, young boys, women with babies at the breast, young girl, all were assembled at the call to repel this parasitic invader. Those who would take their women and children, mock their Christ, their priests, and without compassion, maim, disfigure and take the life of their brave fighting men.
Their weapons were the tools of the field but they had one advantage, they were fighting for their lives, their homes, all that was held dear. Death had no meaning, for life would never be the same if they were defeated. In their favour was the gift nature had bestowed upon them, the sheer sea cliff, the stone, turf-clad walls, built to protect them from this predicted onslaught. All they had to rely on was the knowledge and belief that their courage would be as strong as the mighty earthen banks built over time with the strength of theirs and their ancestor’s own arms.
The result of their struggle is well known and I am happy to tell you of their victory. Thus was the legend born we know as the battle of Arx Cynuit, the last attempt by the accursed Danes to subdue this island race.
Having shown me the Priest’s hole John recognised that I was not only intrigued but downright jealous of his and Sue’s stately home in miniature. We continued up the staircase with John calmly leading the way. At the top he stopped suddenly. This made me pull up with a start. “What is it, man, are you okay,” He smiled.
“This is probably what was once the long gallery but as you can see it is now just a series of rooms that we haven’t got round to fitting out yet, well, not much. We’ve put you in the one at the far end and don’t worry, there is a bit of furniture in there, no need to use the floor this time.”
”Great, “ I enthused, “but do you always keep all the doors open? Bit draughty isn’t it?”
”Well, funny you should say that but there’s a reason for it,” he put his finger to his lips. At that moment we heard Sue call up from the kitchen, “Haven’t you got him settled in yet John, the tea’s getting cold down here.”
”She means well, I’ll tell you later but don’t ask her about it. I can’t decide if she thinks I’m foolish or if she’s a wee bit worried.”
“Not long my dear, he’s been asking too many questions, wants to know the whole history of the old place,” he called back down. Turning to me he said, “We’d better get on, as you can imagine a place this old has stored up a few quirky habits that we can have a talk about later if we go down to the village for a drink.”
We proceeded along the corridor to the end. My room for the night was sparsely furnished, a double divan, a small bedside table, over large dark oak wardrobe, which had probably been in the house since it’s earliest days, due in part to the great difficulty anyone would experience in trying to remove it. A modern high-backed chair completed the tally. Leaving my bag on the bed we made our way back to the kitchen to rejoin Sue.
Whilst sipping our tea we discussed our plans for the evening but all the while I kept thinking about John’s enigmatic comment about the open doors. It was becoming increasingly difficult to contain my curiosity. Luckily the phone rang during our chat. It was Magdalena my partner checking that I had arrived safely as I had forgotten to ring her and confirm it. A cardinal sin in her eyes.
She then proceeded to announce that she had been able to leave work early and would we mind if she drove down to join us for the weekend. We agreed that it would be a great idea and settled down to await her arrival.
Knowing that Magdalena and I would be sharing the room I thought again about the doors. When Sue went out of the room I asked John if we could go out and move our cars around so there would be enough parking spaces on the gravel drive. He agreed guessing the true reason for my suggestion.
Immediately we were outside the door I voiced my concern. I asked whether Magdalena would be affected by the open door policy. He said that he had better tell me the curious story and later tonight would be a good test.
Sadly he was unable to elaborate as with a laugh, Sue came out of the house to join us thinking that we were hatching some conspiracy against her.
My first and instant reaction to the photo was a flashback to an amazing concert I was lucky enough to attend a few years ago. A Pogues annual tour where the band played their amazing Xmas hit, the wonderful, “Fairytale of New York,” which of course includes the melodic, lyrically masterful phrase, “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot.” What else would you expect me to think of?
I awoke with a start. Disappointed I found myself in my cramped bed-chamber but I was intoxicated with joy for I had dreamed of an encounter with the Gods. Voices from on high had echoed in my head. Inviting me to join with them in their magnificent palace in the skies. Zeus himself had called my name. He had sent a magnificent swan to stand beside my bower. I climbed upon the beautiful bird’s broad, silk-soft back and was carried up into the heavens. Faster than the wind we flew till we reached a golden castle adorned with towers and minarets. Oh, so gently the swan landed in a magnificent garden where fountains played and I was greeted by a group of hand-maidens who, laughing at my shy confusion, ushered me into a scented room. Along one wall was a carved ebony bench on which a smiling cherub sat, in his hands a lyre from which he teased a tune of infinite harmony. In the centre of the floor was a steaming pool of water on which floated many brightly coloured lotus blossoms. I was invited to bathe and afterwards. emerging from the pool was anointed with sweet perfumes. They wrapped me in silken robes and I was gently ushered into a room with white marble walls. Each covered in damask tapestries of intricate design. Dazzled by the opulence of my surroundings I was urged to recline upon an amber couch furnished with cushions of infinite softness. My feathery steed stood sentinel and held his wings above me as a canopy. I laid my head upon the pillow and immediately fell into a deep slumber. That is all I, Leda, remember of my encounter with the Gods, be it fantasy or frolic.
“Oh no, not again, Mum, mum there’s something wrong with me,”
”What’s wrong Billy,” said his mother with a smile, “and why do you keep on going to that little tree and standing in front of it?”
”Well you remember when I was three, you stood me up to it and made that mark where my head was?”
”Yeeess, why, did it bother you?”
”Well you told me that that would be half my height I’d be when I grow up.”
”That’s right dear, that’s what they say. Why do you keep on checking it?”
”Well, mum, I’m getting smaller and smaller. I was a lot taller then, I’m never going to reach twice the height that mark is now.
This day was summer when the sun shone, and biting winter when clouds overtook the sky, a tumultuous mix of seasons in the span of an afternoon. An apt description of Exmoor, an unforgiving place. In one day you can walk through a whole year of weather, warm, wet, cold the whole shebang. It is all part of it’s magic and sometimes mystery.
A young family were staying in Porlock weir, the husband a warehouseman, his wife a part-time classroom assistant. She had returned to work after a two and a half year break after the birth of their first child, Millie. It was Easter half term and they had managed to rent a small cottage.
With Millie tiring of rock-pooling and net-dipping every day they decided to visit Culbone church, reputed to be the smallest church in England. Although a long walk, the path was suitable to take a buggy through the woods along the gently sloping cliff edge.
It was a glorious Spring morning when they set off, Millie well wrapped up but her parents dressed as if for a Summer stroll. A cloudless sky when they set out but while in the church it began to darken. On the way back the rain started to fall. At first just a few large drops but gradually increasing to a downpour. They had just passed what appeared to be a cave entrance. He took Millie by the hand and ran back to the cave while his wife dragged the buggy. A leaflet in the church had stated that charcoal burners used to live in the woods during medieval times, part of a leper colony so they assumed that this had once been a dwelling. In fact it was the entrance to an ancient, disused lead-mine. This was an industry that was not mentioned as it could be bad publicity for the countryside.
The rain was incessant and after a while where it had been seeping from above their heads it became a constant stream. They were amused when without prompting, Millie made a cup of her hands and started to drink the water and splashing it on her face. After about fifteen minutes the rain stopped and once more the sun came out. They hurried back to their holiday cottage as fast as possible ready to change and relax before the journey back to their home the next day.
In the car Millie started to complain of stomach ache and seemed in so much pain that they called into accident and emergency at their local hospital. After many anxious hours they were told how lucky they had been. Millie was suffering from arsenic poisoning from the water that had seeped through the mine roof. She had been very close to death. They would be prepared for any weather without sheltering next time.