The Snap

 The weather was glorious. He’d been told to expect rain.’ It always rains in England. Even in the summer. Why do you think the English talk about the weather all the time?’  Well his informant was misinformed. The sun was at full mid-day strength; the sky was pure azure blue with one or two little puffs of cloud, and he hadn’t heard anyone comment on the weather yet.

But then they were all busy admiring the plants. After all this was what they’d come to see. Well the flowers and the castle. Perhaps one or two of them hoped they’d see the owners. He wouldn’t mind a glimpse himself. Now that would be something to tell folks back in Boston.

Hank slowed his pace to take in a vista which had suddenly opened up.  Breathtaking!  He took a few snaps, glad he’d invested in a digital camera before he travelled. It was good to know he could keep snapping almost forever, and even if he got it wrong, (which was probably most of the time) so long as he realised, he could snap it again. Now, how about something artistic? If he stood partially behind this bush (a rhododendron) he could get a shot of the castle with a flower in the top corner. Ah ha…that looks…

‘Hello’! Hank jumped  and his finger closed down prematurely on the shutter release.

‘Oh Hello’. He checked the errant snap, and sighed.

‘I’m sorry. I made you jump. Is it bad?’

The young woman leaned over his shoulder to look.

‘Not good, though that sky effect is great…here let me. You’re not good with cameras are you?’

Taking the camera from him, she adjusted the settings and aligned herself perfectly, clicked and then checked the result.

‘There. What do you think?’

‘Amazing, it’s just what I was after, and I might have achieved it if you hadn’t made me jump so violently.

She grinned. ‘Not with those settings.  Don’t look so surprised. I could see what you were trying to do as I approached. You American?’

‘Yes. Hank, from Boston. You?’ He held out his hand and looked at her properly for the first time. Small with a smiley face, although her eyes were masked by shades, and beautiful long red hair sort of crunched up under one of those peaked caps. Weren’t they fashionable in the sixties? He instantly thought of Cathy McGowan. This girl was every bit as pretty.

‘Liz. I’m not American, she chuckled. I’m English through and through.’

‘Ah. What are you doing here? Not the sort of place I’d expect to see someone like you.’

‘Why ever not?’ she laughed. ‘I live here. My father owns the castle. It’s my home’.

She grinned as she saw the flicker of realisation light his face.

‘Oh my’, he stuttered. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise’.

‘Nothing to be sorry about. Now I have to go, as Daddy asked me to be back by half one. Some sort of meeting. Have a nice day’, she said, rather pointedly, he thought.


Hank watched her walk away, thrilled that briefly, he had met and spoken to one of the English nobility. Though come to think of it, her accent was not what he’d have expected. He thought she was missing the plum, and didn’t sound very refined.  Maybe she played the accent down when conversing with the riff-raff.

 Liz looked at her watch and increased her speed almost to a jog, and then quite suddenly, she fell. She lay on the ground clutching her head. Running towards her, Hank wondered how she could have tripped; much less hurt her head, as there was nothing but grass.

‘Are you ok?’ he asked, although it was plain to see that she was not.

‘I’ve hurt my head’

She tried to raise herself.

‘No, hang on. Let me help’. He leaned down and gently lifted her. There was no weight to her. She was still rubbing the side of her head, which was now exposed, the cap having fallen off. He bent down to retrieve it. It was strange, he mused,  that her shades had not fallen too with the sudden jolt of the fall.

‘What did you bang you head on?’ he queried.

‘A stone, I think. That’s what it felt like’. Hank had a look whilst picking up the cap, but as far as he could tell, there wasn’t a stone to be seen anywhere close.

‘Can you help me back to the house. Sorry. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I feel a bit faint. I’d rather have someone with me’.

‘Of course.’

They started to walk towards the house. She ruefully, he a little confused. As they approached the castle entrance, busy with tourists, Liz suddenly gripped his arm.

‘I feel faint’, and she slithered to the ground, eyes closed, limp and lifeless.

‘Oh no! Help, someone. It’s the duke’s daughter. She’s fainted’.

Within seconds everyone was grouped around, and several people started to help the girl. She appeared to come round, and looking up at the people around her, asked if they could carry her inside. Hank, aided by another, younger man, picked her up and took her into the castle.

‘ Please, just put me in that room. It’s the office. I’ll contact my father’.

They sat her down in the room, which was nothing like an office, as far as the Hank could see …not even a desk, and then thanking them both profusely, she asked to be left alone.


Out in the bright light of the sunny park, Hank decided to head back to where he’d been taking his photographs, although he might as well take a minute and photograph the front of the castle, if he could get it all in. This might be difficult. He might have to walk back a bit to get the whole building in, and a bit more, maybe a tad more… at this rate he’d be at the end of the drive. Now, that should do it.

Suddenly there was a loud crunching of tyres on gravel, and a large 4×4 appeared from behind the house.

‘Hello again! You’re too close. Want a lift to the gate? Better photo from there!’

Hank recognised the sound of the familiar voice, and saw the girl Liz, seated in the front of the vehicle, with two men in balaclavas, one of whom was standing up through the open roof, and pointing a gun at the castle entrance and everyone who was standing in front of it, including Hank. The girl laughed, and he heard her say something that sounded like ‘sorry sucker’, and then with a roar they were gone.

A crowd of onlookers assembled around him, all as shocked as he was, except that they had only witnessed a getaway. He had aided and abetted, albeit not knowingly. Now that was something to tell them back home! 



Phoenix Rising (1)

‘Are you ok dear? You look a bit green around the gills’.
As usual my ever observant and sensitive husband didn’t miss a thing.
‘I’m fine’. I replied, and I thought I was. ‘Just a bit of indigestion from all this rich food.

Come on. Time for your speech. Everyone’s waiting.’
I’d like to begin by asking you all to remember with me the reason why we are all

assembled here today, and why this day is so special. It has been made all the more

special by you folks joining us here to celebrate. I know that Carrie feels the same, and

I know that like me, her thoughts will have returned to that remarkable day yet again,

I turned to look at his smiling face, crinkled a bit in places, but still bearing the same

warm kindly grin, accompanied by eyes which truly shone with love and sincerity. How

lucky I was to have met him that day, all those years ago. How serendipitous! I say

that, because it could have been any one of a number of other people I bumped into as

I ran from the burning building. There were children fleeing in all directions. Shouts and

screams and panicky chattering made concentrating difficult. Thick amorphous smoke

obscured everything and as I ran, hanky over my nose and mouth, I heard the fire

brigade and teachers trying to marshal about five hundred individuals into a designated

space. With my eyes stinging and an ever deepening sense of disorientation I started

towards the voices of the teachers. In the murkiness and gloom of the smoke and

rubble I tripped and bumped into someone. It was Chris.
When I say I met Chris, that isn’t strictly true, because we had known each other since

nursery school and attended the same primary and secondary schools together since

then. We were pupils in the sixth form, although in different classes and studying, for

the most part, different subjects. Admittedly not close, we were more than nodding

acquaintances, but I suppose, with very little common ground between us, there had

been no reason for us to be anything more than that. So, when I say ‘met’ I mean it in

the sense that I could have physically met anyone in the mad exodus, but I didn’t. I

met Chris, and as if for the first time.
I had no idea who I had knocked as I stumbled and tried to regain my footing.

Embarrassed, I took the hand that was extended to me and clung on until had I

re-established my balance. Through the whirl of poisonous grey mist, I recognised Chris

and burst into tears.
‘Come on. Let’s get out of this before it kills us’!
It was a command and I obeyed, clutching his hand as he gently pulled me along. His

hand grip was comfortingly secure and as we ran, I began to feel less anxious. After a

while we could see more clearly and found our way to the back of the playing field

which seemed to be the collection point for able- bodied evacuees. With my free hand I

rubbed my tearful eyes, which, though inconvenient, had benefited from tears which

had expunged some of the stinging sensation of the smoke. I looked back at the

school. As yet there wasn’t much to see. Every now and then bits of ghostly building

exposed themselves and then disappeared again behind the smog.  I was aware that

half the schools population were still missing. Maybe they were at the other side, on

the road. Worried, I voiced my concerns and promptly started to cry again. Chris looked

down at me, put his arm round my shoulders and squeezed gently. Then sensing my

discomfort, guided my wet face to his shoulder, and I buried my tears and splutters and

gave in to the immense feeling of shock. At one point I remember Chris murmuring

something, and then I thought I felt him kiss the top of my head. Afterwards I thought

I had just imagined it. It must just have been shock doing funny things to my

perception. My senses were all out of kilter.
Gradually the group became larger as more children joined it. Most of them were calm,

but one or two were clearly in shock. Some of them were ticked off the lists that the

teachers were checking and then taken to waiting ambulances. Others clung to each

other in small clusters, chattering, crying, and endlessly fidgeting, trying to come to

terms with this horrific interruption to the school day.
I don’t know how long we stood there. Chris told me later that the teachers had rung

our parents, but got no replies. When we were told we could leave, Chris was still

holding me and he continued to do so as we began to walk off the field.
‘I’ll walk you home. I think perhaps you should have gone to the hospital. Are you

feeling any better?’
‘I’m heaps better thanks. You’ve been great’, was all I could manage. I couldn’t quite

muster the words to tell him how great he’d been, but as I looked up at him, I saw the

concern in his face slowly diminish and I thought perhaps he had  an inkling. I looked

back at the school, one last time. To my amazement, I saw a pattern forming in the

‘Chris! Look!’
Chris turned and we watched as the smoked whirled upwards into the shape of a bird,

and then hovered for some thirty seconds over the school.
‘My God’, Chris gasped. ‘It’s a Phoenix’.
Numbed, I tentatively asked him if he thought this was a good sign.
‘I reckon. Not sure I believe in it, but we both just saw it, didn’t we?’
He looked down at me for confirmation. Then we looked back at the smoke, and any

bird shape we’d seen in the smoke had dissipated, leaving random swirls and wisps

caught by the heat and the wind. We walked home.
When we arrived at my house, my father was just turning into the drive. When he saw

us, he was immediately concerned. Not surprisingly, we were covered in the debris from

the fire, carried by the smoke. Tiny ashes, perhaps books and papers from the library

and our desks were now flecking our uniforms and bodies, and our faces must have told

the story succinctly. My father, a GP immediately took control, herding us into the

house and ringing Chris’ family and my mother. Then he gave us sweet warm drinks…to

this day I have no idea what…and questioned Chris and then me as to our state of

health, mental and physical. Satisfied that we were both ok, although mildly shocked,

he sat us down on the sofa and made us talk. Talking, he said, would help. I wasn’t

sure how, and by now I was feeling so tired I just wanted to sleep. Shortly afterwards,

Chris’ mother arrived, followed by his father and my mother. Chris and I answered the

barrage of questions, as best we could, and then the adults decided to switch on the

radio and the television, in the hopes of acquiring a little more information. I think I

fell asleep at this point.
Neither Chris nor I had told our parents about the Phoenix. I think we felt sure we’d be

considered daft, over imaginative, or just reacting to the shock of the situation. We

talked about it once or twice, but soon forgot in the business of our everyday lives.

There were more important things to consider. Secretly I took comfort from the vision.

After all, it was meant to symbolise re-birth, and rebirth suggested a future.


Phoenix Rising (2)

The months that followed were fraught with tension as we studied for our A levels, but

we rarely spent a day without seeing each other, even just for a few minutes. When

making our plans for university, we decided that we would study near each other if

possible, but not necessarily in the same city. This would give us both a little

independence, but also mean we could continue to see each other frequently, which

was a priority for both of us. Chris’ parents were a little dubious about this, suggesting

to Chris that he go where his studies took him, not where I was, but he told them that

I was the most important person in his life, and he wanted to be near me. I think my

parents were slightly amused, deciding that time would tell what was important and

what wasn’t. In the event, Chris went to Edinburgh to Veterinary college and I went to

Stirling University to study English.
About three years later when I had just finished my finals, I got back to my flat to find

a message waiting for me. One of my flatmates had taken a telephone message from

Chris’s dad, telling me to get to Edinburgh quickly as Chris had been involved in an car

accident. He was critical. Flinging a few essentials together I had driven to Edinburgh,

my mind in a haze. I’m not sure how I managed to drive. My mind was all over the

place. My thoughts were so erratic and my body seemed to be in it’s own world,

disconnected from me, yet somehow I had switched to auto pilot and was driving

seemingly as normal. Looking back now, I realise that couldn’t have been the case, but

no one was going to convince me otherwise, or stop me getting to Edinburgh. At one

point, I started to cry, and was having real difficulty seeing the road. I decided to stop

for a moment or two, and as luck would have it, a layby appeared out of nowhere. I

wiped my eyes with a tissue, blew my nose and then looked out of the window. As I

gazed up at the skies, I felt my stomach leap. The clouds were moving fast, too fast. I

knew that as there was no wind to speak of, yet they were moving at great speed, and

in all directions. This was strange too, but I hardly had time to reflect on this before I

became aware that the clouds were forming a pattern, no an object. It was a phoenix. I

watched in awe. I must be dreaming this. I must be in some kind of altered state. I

blinked, pinched my arm, shook my head, but the vision remained. I stared at it, and

realised that not only was it a bird made of clouds but the bird was red and gold, not

so much deep colours but definite tints. It was amazing. Then as quickly as it

appeared, it dissipated, just like the smoke had all those years ago, and then, nothing.

Just normal blue grey sky and clouds.
Stunned I sat silently for a moment or two, contemplating this experience; trying to

make sense of it. Then I realised that the tension I had felt before parking the car had

eased and I now felt more able to cope. I remembered that the Phoenix had made me

feel safe and hopeful for the future last time I saw it, and I was sure that was what I

was meant to fell now. Chris would be alright. All I had to do was get there safely and

be with him.
I got to hospital and found that Chris had been moved off the critical list and the staff

were fairly confident he would recover quickly. He did, and returned to college two

months later in fine fettle. I didn’t tell him about the phoenix. I don’t know why not.

Somehow it just didn’t seem necessary, but for the second time in a few years the

Phoenix had given me the strength to go on and believe in the future.
Two years later we were married, and two years after that I became pregnant with our

first child. Chris had become a partner in his father’s practice so we had moved back to

our home town, to the relief of our parents, especially when they knew they were about

to become grandparents. Then disaster struck. Without warning, my baby decided to

make a premature entrance into the world. He was very small but proved himself strong

and survived. However, I struggled after a long labour and became very ill, having

caught some virus shortly after the birth. I remember being in a feverous state and

unaware of who was with me, or what was happening. One night, apparently a week

after our son was born, I awoke to find Chris at my bedside. He was stroking my hand

and smiling down at me. ‘Hello. You’ve come back. I knew you would. The phoenix told

me!’ Too weak to reply, I just smiled, having been given the reassurance I needed. I

knew I would survive.
A few days later, Chris sat on the bed with his arm around my shoulders as I cradled

our first born.
‘I didn’t want to register him until you were well enough to tell me what you would like

to call him, but I think there is only one name we can call him, don’t you?
We smiled at each other. Chris told me that on the night that I had recovered he had

gone for a walk in a nearby park. He had been sitting at the side of my bed for nearly a

week and felt the need to get some fresh air once in a while. On this occasion, he had

wandered further than usual and ended up in one of the city parks. The park had a lake,

and on a cold November evening, there was a heavy mist hanging over the still water.

It was lit by an ornamental street lamp and the light caught his attention as he

approached the lake. He had stopped to look and found a bench nearby. As he absently

watched the lake, his mind back at the hospital with me, he suddenly felt a heat. The

cold air around him was replaced by warm air, travelling slowly passed him as if

someone were holding an electric fan to his face. Slowing he broke from his reverie and

became aware that the warm air was visible as red and gold strands of mist, which was

wafting lazily around the lake making beautiful patterns. Suddenly, just as he realised

that he was seeing something extraordinary, the water on the lake became ruffled and

disturbed and to his amazement, the coloured mist appeared to organise itself into a

shape, a form which he knew he’d seen before. It was the phoenix, rising from the

waters of the lake. Chris said it was spectacular. Fire and water, joined in a wonderful

performance which he suspected was for his viewing only. It lasted no longer than thirty

seconds or so, and then, like my spectre, it was gone, lost in the air around it. Chris

knew that I would recover, and sure enough, later that night, this was the case. I then

told him how I had seen the Phoenix after his accident. We agreed that out son

couldn’t be called anything other than Phoenix.


Phoenix Rising (3)

As I listened to Chris telling anecdotes from our family’s past, I felt a little giddy. I must have rocked a little, because Astra leaned across and gently held my arm.
‘Are you ok Mum? You look a bit pale’
‘I’m fine Sweetheart’, I whispered back, but come to think of it, I did feel a little odd. I turned my attention back to Chris, but soon became lost in my own thoughts again, as I remembered that Astra alone was the only member who had not seen the Phoenix. We had not told her about it and had sworn Phoenix to secrecy when it became clear that he had seen the bird too. As a child he was happy and contented, but we had a couple of fretful days, when he lost his playmate, his bear. Jack was a special bear, at least Phoenix thought so, and when he suddenly became lost, poor Phoenix was distraught. We searched high and low for two days. Every nook and cranny was torn about and scrutinised, indoors and out, but no Jack. On the third night, Phoenix cried himself to sleep again. My heart broke for him. I had been on the phone that day trying to find an identical bear to replace Jack, in the hopes that Phoenix would not be able to tell it was a substitute, but so far I had not been successful in locating another bear. At last he slept, quite soundly I thought, considering his distress. In the morning I heard him wake up, shouting for me. I rushed in, ready to soothe him, but he was beaming.
‘Jack’s coming back’.
‘Is he? How do you know?’.  I was concerned that he was going to be disappointed, but his next words blew me away.
‘The big bird said he was coming back today. In Grandma’s car.’
‘The big bird?’
‘A big, big bird like an eagle in the sky’. He pointed to the window. ‘I saw him fly up to the moon’.
The curtains were still drawn across. Clearly he had been dreaming, but I knew instantly that the Phoenix had come to him. I gathered him up in my arms, kissed him and said that that was good news and I hoped that Jack would come back that day.
‘He will’, my son assured me, and scrambled down from my arms to run excitedly to tell his dad the news.
The amazing part about this was that everything came true. Jack did come back, and in Grandma’s car. Two days previously, my mother had bought her mother to visit. My grandmother was in the later stages of dementia at that time, and it looked as if she had taken a liking to Jack and carried him out to the car when she and Mum returned home. She had left him in the car, and Mum, not having used the car since, never thought to look there. No reason to. So Jack lay there for two days, until Mum used the car that morning and found him. She immediately cancelled her aromatherapy massage and came straight to us with the bear. Phoenix was ecstatic and told her all about the bird. I did wonder if she had seen the Phoenix, but there wasn’t even a glimmer of recognition as her grandson related his dream, so I concluded she hadn’t ever had the vision. We suspected that Phoenix saw the bird several times, but we never pressed him about it until he was in his teens. He suddenly mentioned it one day. Luckily Astra wasn’t around. Chris sat him down and told him about our experiences. Phoenix was very calm about it, saying that he clearly remembered that first dream and had felt relief after the vision. Likewise the second time he had seen the phoenix, when he was being bullied at school. The bird had come to him in another dream, this time the bird carried a book which had the word, ‘Bullies’ written on it. Phoenix had taken this as a sign that he should research the subject, and had gone to the library and read up on the bullying, which had given him the necessary knowledge and confidence to deal with the situation. Chris and I had explained that we didn’t want Astra to be told. If the Phoenix was meant to reveal itself to her, better let it happen naturally, rather than plant images in her head.
So Astra to my knowledge had not seen the bird. Perhaps she was not able to see it, like my mother, or maybe it hadn’t been necessary for her to have a sighting. Perhaps we would never know.
Loud clapping and cheering brought me back to the here and now, and I joined in, smiling at my wonderful husband. We had never faltered in our love for each other. I hoped Phoenix and Astra would be just as happy. Astra had been married for nearly a year and we liked her husband. I expected them to have a good life together. Phoenix was as yet single, but he would settle down soon. He was a good and kind person and women loved him. When the time was right…
Ohh! A sharp pain hit me in my chest. And then another. Oh my god…what’s happening. I felt my legs go under me and then another sharp searing pain before I blacked out. Yet I was still there. I could hear everyone around me, bending over me, concerned. Chris was asking for an ambulance. Bless him. Too late this time Sweetheart! His sweet face was desperate with worry. I wish I could soothe him. Suddenly I realised I was seeing as well as hearing, but I was no longer in pain. In fact I felt at peace, but I wasn’t happy that these wonderful people were in so much pain. Astra was crying at my side, and Phoenix just stood with tears in his eyes. Astra began to pull at my arms.
‘Mum, get up, come on get up. You’ll be ok. You’ll be fine’.
I heard Chris ask Sam, her husband to take her away. Sam pulled her gently to the back of the room and held her, trying to comfort her. As I looked down at the scene below me, I was surprised to see smoke rising up somewhere below me, red and yellow. No!  Gold smoke. Did someone have some incense? Suddenly Astra went berserk.
‘Look, Mum’s changing into a bird. She’s a bird. Do something. Someone do something, she’s on fire’.
I saw Chris’s face turn and look up at me and recognition flit across his features. Then it hit me. Was I the phoenix? Or was the phoenix in us all, but some know it and others don’t. I looked down and saw my feathers, gold edged, glittering through the smoke, and my red coloured plumage covering what I could see of my chest. Yes, I was in the care of the bird, and I knew that my husband and son would understand and pass this understanding onto Astra. No one else in the room saw anything untoward and they appeared to think Astra was in some sort of shock, so didn’t react in anything other than a sympathetic way when she lunged for my body again. This time Chris and Phoenix took her and cradled her, murmuring something I couldn’t quite catch, but I knew from her face that they had told her. The fear had gone and her eyes travelled upwards taking in the whole spectacle. As I looked at my daughter, I knew that new life was imminent and that she would come to understand very soon.
Strange that no-one else in the room was cognisant of what was happening.
Content that my family would be safe, I knew that it was time to let the phoenix finish what it had started and I released the last breath, letting the divinity draw me upwards to prepare me for my new life.

©DF 2008


The Stalker

The nagging never ceases.
Relentless! On and on.
Why do you feel the need to torment me,
pester me, worry me, fill me with dread?
If it wasn’t so serious I’d call it teasing,
but your tone is so threatening;
your threats so unspeakable
that I feel I have no escape.
Stop it. Enough! I won’t listen anymore!
Niggle, go on. Think I don’t know
you are waiting in dark recesses ready to pounce?
Just when I think all the bullying has stopped;
when I think it is safe to relax;
here you are with your questions again.
So many questions.
Did you? What if? Suppose…
This cacophony of doubt echoes around in my head.
I can’t function because of your jibes.
I can’t go on anymore with the doubt
playing tricks with my memory, damaged and unsafe.
You leave me guessing.
I have to turn back, quieten your voice.
Settle this matter, banish my anxiety.
I can no longer ignore your irritating desire
to play havoc with my peace of mind.
I submit, I give in,
and I’ll turn back and check…
Did I switch the iron off
before I came out?

© DF 2008


Waste Not, Want Not

Waste not, want not.
my parents were wont to say.
Less now, more tomorrow;
food on the plate everyday.

Fifty years later, their words long forgotten,
we buy in excess,  much more than we  need.
Fridges and freezers should help conserve stocks,
but they unwittingly sanction our greed.

Two generations, little memory, little care
of a bygone age, it’s messages replete
with innate anger, guilt and caution,
but they’ve long lost the receipt.

The world of my parents  – two centuries ago
for all of the relevance it holds to the young,
is gone, or is it? Will there be a time in the future
when the songs of the past are resung?

Will there be a new era, bought on by necessity?
A dwindling of resources, a reluctance to reduce
our share of the earth’s treasures; or find
alternative methods of manufacturing produce.

The wise words of the past, take on a new meaning
with an urgency, seemingly unheeded.
If nobody listens, the planet’s platter will be empty
and such maxims, will no longer be needed.

 © DF 2008


The Ghost of Guilt

Another year, another reminder.
A memory of how you arrived,
and the swiftness of your departure.
I knew I had lost you…that you were unable to stay.
Yet as time elapses, the pain remains;
diminished, but always whispering;
conspiring with my anger, toying with my guilt.

I lament afresh your parting;
the huge void you left behind,
acknowledging it should have been otherwise.
I don’t regret your visit.
In many ways it was positive,
leaving me better prepared
to cope with an unpredictable world

No, the only flaw attributed to your appearance
was its brevity.
But that was enough to cause a landslide.
A few hours and the world had changed.
A catastrophe .Moving sands…bottomless pits.
Unexpected and unchartered territory.
No guides; and you, as if you had never been.

Your transient presence however, left an imprint,
a wound; a cut that would never quite heal.
Nor should it.
But what of those who aided your demise?
Whose negligence conspired to force a premature
and short-lived existence.
Does the ghost of guilt shadow their memories too?

I wonder…