Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Spirits and Sleuths - A Short Story for Halloween.

Hi, I’m Mia. Let me begin by telling you that I am not your average fifteen year old girl in more ways than one. I listen to the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and I don’t do ‘N Dubz’ or Lady Gaga. It’s my mother that waves that waves ‘Heat’ magazine under my nose! I have no interest in Katie and Peter’s latest stunt! Mum and the kids at school think I’m weird. "Really Mia, You should make some attempts to fit in!" Mum will say. "Why?" I reply simply and head back to my room.
Anyway, I digress (yes, I know words like ‘digress’. I learnt them from reading books) and I don’t wish to be mean, but it seems that half the kids in my class probably wouldn’t be able to even spell it!

This story isn’t about me, it’s about my best friend Emma or rather, her house. I guess you could say it’s your average new build family home with three bedrooms and a fully fitted kitchen, blah, blah, blah! The Estate Agent’s details said that there was ‘room for the kids to play’ and almost made a feature of the slide belonging to Emma’s toddler twin sisters. Emma hated that! Actually, Emma hates them! They were an expected present, very unexpected according to Emma, who is silently seething about having to leave her room behind when the family move somewhere bigger.

Anyway sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the house. I have stayed there lots of times but I always feel uneasy. The first time I went in there four years ago I felt so nauseous. Emma laughed and put it down to me eating too many of her Dad’s dodgy pancakes! I didn’t find it funny.

Then she grabbed my hand and hauled me excitedly upstairs to see her new room. I remember suddenly not being able to breathe properly as we reached the doorway, and then being almost overwhelmed by the strong smell of smoke and I stopped dead. Emma turned to me, "You alright? You don’t look too good..."she asked, concerned "Has your Mum burnt something?" I replied quietly, my voice cracking slightly. "No, not in the last twenty four hours!"Emma laughed opening the door to show me her en suite. I think she expected me to be jealous, but I wasn’t. "Oh well, maybe the neighbours are having a bonfire or something then" I replied, and did my best to forget about it.

The day of Emma’s fourteenth birthday, she asked me over for a barbeque. It was a Saturday so Mum said yes when I asked to sleepover.

The house was icy cold when I stepped through the front door into the hall. It was the middle of August and sunlight was streaming through the windows. I had been comfortable in my short red summer dress but suddenly I wished I had brought a jumper. "Hello Mia!" Emma’s mum said brightly as she carried a basket of washing downstairs "...Oh Emma, for goodness sake, get Mia a drink! Don’t just leave her standing there. She’s walked all the way over here!" Emma grumbled and pulled me into the kitchen.

Leaning against the kitchen worktop, I waited for my best friend to fill up our glasses with Coke when I clearly saw a little boy run towards the back door, from the direction of the hall. He looked about our age and had ash blonde hair, appearing not just once, but twice, as the scene repeated itself again. 

My heart stopped beating for a second, and my blood ran cold in my veins. "Em!" I whispered almost too scared to speak, "Did you see that?" "See what?" she replied, handing me the glass. I struggled to take it from her because my hands were clammy and trembling, "Um... you won’t believe this but I think I just saw a ghost! It was a little boy in dark brown trousers, and a white shirt... He just ran across there!" I said gesturing towards the back door. Emma put her arm round me and giggled "Oh yeah, right, you see dead people! You need help Mee!" she commented, and giggled again.

Up until then I had doubted myself, believing that everything I felt and even smelt in that house was a product of the overactive imagination that my Mum says I get from Gran. Still shaking, I took hold of Emma’s arm, "Come on, we’re going outside!" I said rather more urgently than I had intended. Once out on the lawn I felt safe again and the goose pimples began to disappear.

I remember being reluctant to stay that night, and I didn’t sleep a wink! I was ‘top to toe’ with Emma who snuffled and shuffled most of the night, frequently pulling the Justin Bieber covered duvet completely off me.
About two in the morning I needed the loo. Closing my eyes and counting to a hundred, I tried not to think about it. Eventually, I had to give in make my way across the landing to the bathroom. With every click of the pipe work or creaking of floorboard, the latter of which was of my own making, I jumped out of my skin and looked nervously around me.

I was tiptoeing back past the twin’s room a few minutes later, when I noticed a hazy red mist floating steadily up the staircase. Suddenly I no longer cared about waking anyone up and bolted back to bed as fast as my legs would carry me! Emma stirred momentarily as I pulled the duvet roughly over my head. There I stayed huddled tightly and listening to my own breathing, until the birds finally started to sing.

I was picked up just after breakfast, and when I’d hugged Emma goodbye, I asked Mum to drop me at the library. She sighed and rolled her eyes, "What do you want to go there for? We’ve got the internet at home!" When I persisted, she did as I asked telling me to ring when I was ready to come home.
I enjoy the peace of the library.

I love the quiet industriousness of it, and the hissed "Sshhh!" every time someone’s mobile accidentally rings! I turned mine off, and began to search the ‘Local History’ section. I found lots on industry and the Civil War but that wasn’t what was needed. Sipping some squash that I quickly smuggled out of my bag, I looked around. Just about to give up, I noticed the librarian, and wandered nervously over to her. She was busy on the computer but she looked up and smiled warmly, "Excuse me" I muttered quietly "I don’t suppose you would know anything about the housing estate on Wilmhurst Lane, would you? It’s just I can’t seem to find anything."

The woman had red hair and when she smiled at me her green eyes twinkled. Not at all the way you’d expect a librarian to look. "This way" she replied... "The estate used to be fields with a few smallholdings. My Grandfather was born there."
She showed me to a big pile of newspapers tucked away on a bottom shelf. "No one asks to look at these much" she said almost apologetically. "There are some old maps over in the corner. You should find what you are looking for and if you need any help I’m just over here."

I thanked her and, feeling like Sherlock Holmes with a wonderful buzz I can’t explain, I began trawling through facsimiles, papers and maps. Time flew by. I was propelled by thoughts of Emma’s house and the field it was built on. I grinned to myself. ‘Heat’ magazine couldn’t give you this type of buzz!

Sometime after lunch, I struck gold! With a map that showed the location of ‘Little Croft smallholding’ at my side, I found a front page story dated March 1910. "Hamsworth Family Die in Fire Tragedy". I felt sad. That would explain the red mist and the little boy running toward the door. Despite myself I let out a tiny squeal of delight and everyone turned to look at me. I shrank down in my seat, embarrassed. From her place behind the desk the librarian looked in my direction and smiled.

On the way out of the library a while later, I filled out a membership form. When the librarian took it from me, she looked at my name in its black block capitals. "Well, hello Miss Woodward" she said, "glad to see you have such an interest in books!" Her eyes made their way slowly down the form, checking for errors as she spoke "Don’t forget if there’s ever a book you can’t find, just come up to the desk, and ask. I've been here long enough to know where most things are". 

I smiled, and thanking her, I turned to make my way towards the exit. However, as I walked through the heavy doors and out into the street, the woman's voice seemed to follow behind me, "Just ask for Lucy, Lucy Hamsworth. They will know who you mean"...

(Image - Courtesy of 'Google')

Monday, 15 October 2012

Dear Mr Cameron - A Letter to the Prime Minister (Sent 14.10.12)

Dear Mr Cameron

Following your closing speech at the party conference, I felt compelled to write to you in the hope that I may go some way to changing your mind about your policies regarding disabled people.

No disabled, ill or vulnerable person in the country deserves to be targeted, victimised, stripped of their independence and be made to suffer. No one deserves the anxiety and fear that you have inflicted on us.

No one in the world should be made to feel like they don't matter and they don't have a right to support.

The most vulnerable people in this country should not be labelled as 'scroungers' and should definitely not be forced into destitution. They should not be feeling so desperate that they feel their only option is to take their own lives.

To do that to a whole section of society is despicable, callous and cruel, and I find it hard to believe that any decent leader or any so called 'compassionate' party would allow 73 deaths per week to happen! 73 deaths per week of people who are so ill that they are dying – and yet the deeply flawed Work Compatibility Assessment has found them fit for work! It is not compassionate, it is morally wrong!

Where is the compassion in making people like me suffer even more when we already suffer enough? Where is the compassion in creating so much anxiety and outright fear amongst disabled and ill people?

There is none!

I did not ask to be born with Cerebral Palsy. I did not ask never to be able to walk or stand unaided and I did not ask for my constant pain and mind numbing exhaustion. In fact, I did not ask for any of the heartbreaking limitations that have been placed on my life!

I'm terrified of losing what independence I have worked hard to keep. You aren't just taking independence when you strip people of vital disability benefits (although that's bad enough) but you are also taking away our pride and dignity. That is not compassionate. It's not even remotely fair!

Taking away money from the poorest, most ill and disabled sections of society before you tax the rich is something I will never be able to understand. It is not justifiable - ever!

We did not cause the economic mess and yet we are being asked to pay for it! How can you justify hurting so many people and destroying so many lives?

You and I both know that the figures for Disability Benefit Fraud are very low indeed. In reality only 0.5% for Disability Living Allowance and 1.5% for Employment Support Allowance, yet, you and your government feel the need to lie to the public through the media. Why? We simply do not deserve it. 

As a result of this negative media coverage, disability hate crime has risen by 20% nationally.

It hurts us. It really, really hurts us! We are not useless, we are not work shy or feckless or fraudsters! We are people who just want to live as normal a life as we can. We are not bugs to be crushed!

I'm asking you, in fact I will beg you if that's what it takes, to please, please, please, stop destroying our lives! 

Yours sincerely