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Saturday, 23 July 2016

Unwanted phone callers

We all get them - cold callers. Just doing their job. Probably, but with little initiative. How short a list of phone numbers do they possess? Always using the same ones?

Even here in Spain we get more than seems reasonable. I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked if I have a pet as this is the first survey in Spain... The first? Over the space of several months? I don't think so. We don't have a pet (been there, done that). But we have a few pet hates - and cold callers are in that list.

A long time ago while in the Royal Navy, one of my fellow submarine drafting staff sometimes answered the phone: 'War Office. Wanna fight?' Invariably, he hung up fast. (He served in the days before the War Office became the Ministry of Defence).

Wikipedia commons

There are several responses to make to these callers, particularly when the same shower do it time and again.

One day a cold caller was ostensibly from Microsoft Windows (scammers, all).
I cut him short with:
'How do you people sleep at nights, trying to scam people?' I hung up.

Yesterday, the cold caller got short shrift: 'Get off the phone! Do not use this number again. I'm getting annoyed!' He hung up.

Today, the call went like this:

Cold Caller: Hello.
Me: Hello.
CC: Do you speak English.
Me: Of course I do, I've just said 'hello', haven't I? Who is this?
CC: I'm in the computer maintenance...
Me (cutting in): You do realise this is a classified line? You will be under investigation for using it.
She hung up.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Weird numbers

I haven't been posting for a few days. My apologies. What is puzzling is that the daily views have been going stratospheric as compared to the times when I'm inactive. Yesterday and today they've been hitting the 300s and 400s. It seems that the big audience is Russia with 508 views yesterday and 979 today already!  Maybe they're reading the adventures of Tana Standish and trying to find out what is fact and what is fiction, even if it all 'happened' in the 1970s...!

Normal service will be resumed shortly.  In the meantime, I'm reading a non-fiction book entitled Life in Russia (1983) by Michael Binyon. Yes, more (never-ending) research.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Writing – analysing a writer’s work-2

Many years ago, when I embarked on writing fiction, I studied a good number of novels in an attempt to see how they worked – paragraph structure, dialogue, scene changes, pace, characterisation, etc. It’s a useful exercise for beginners.

I’m going to post the occasional analysis in this blog, though it’s a little invidious, analysing a writer with only one sample of his (or her) work, but here goes.

The Writer: D.H. Lawrence
The Work: Love Among the Haystacks, 1930 (reviewed in my blog here)

If you’re intent on writing short stories, it makes sense to read short stories – preferably in the market you’re aiming at. Sadly, in the magazine world, there are no outlets these days for men’s adventure and action short stories; women’s magazines still proliferate, the most popular being Women’s Weekly and The People’s Friend in the UK. To counter-balance this state of affairs, there are a good number of online webzine outlets worth investigating.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to review short stories by accredited masters of the form. One of these is D.H. Lawrence, who wrote many, which can be read in collections such as The Prussian Officer, England, My England, The Woman Who Rode Away, The Princess and Other Stories, The Mortal Coil and Other Stories and Love Among the Haystacks.

The stories in this collection (Love Among the Haystacks) are a mixed bag and I feel they are not the best of his work. Of course his bucolic descriptions put the reader into the scene: ‘The two large fields lay on a hillside facing south. Being newly cleared of hay, they were golden green, and they shone almost blindingly in the sunlight…’ This is the beginning of the story. Modern critics and writers tend to avoid setting the scene like this at the start of a short story, and advocate diving straight in, perhaps with dialogue between the protagonists. The scene can be glimpsed through the eyes of one character, too, unlike here where it’s conveyed  with an omniscient point of view.

The omniscient POV is sometimes necessary for a short story, due to the limited length. Here, it’s ‘tell’ all the way, with little emotional involvement. ‘Geoffrey turned white to the lips, and remained standing, listening. He heard the fall. Then a flush of darkness came over him…’ (p14) He has just knocked his brother Maurice off the top of the haystack, but there’s no mention of gut-wrenching shock, the stopping of his heart, no physiological change in response to this potentially fatal action.

I was surprised to discover lazy writing, too.

‘Nay, lass,’ smiled Maurice.
‘Aye, in a bit,’ smiled Maurice.
‘There’s nowt ails me, father,’ he laughed. (pp18/19)

This kind of writing occurs frequently in popular fiction, but I’m surprised that it is present in literary fiction. As I’ve written in my book Write a Western in 30 Days: Ever tried smiling while speaking? There should be a full stop at the end of the speech and ‘He smiled’ capitalized. (p125)

You will have noticed his use of dialect, too. This can limit a readership and slow down the story. Is it correct, anyway? It’s so easy to get it wrong. There are little ways to suggest dialect without going overboard. A few recent TV productions have suffered due to a director’s insistence on realistic vernacular. Why do they do it? If we’re writing about French people, or Russians, we don’t write in their language, we use English – perhaps with the odd word or phrase (artificially thrown in). Avoid dialect!

Word repetition. All writers suffer from this ailment and only dedicated self-editing can remove the repetitions. Usually, they’re word-echoes, lingering in the head while putting down the first draft. There’s nothing wrong with using the same word more than once in the text, but preferably not on the same page or even in the same paragraph. On p65, we have ‘look of unspeakable irritability’ and five paragraphs lower, ‘crumpled mask of unspeakable irritability’ followed in the next paragraph with ‘almost gibbering irritability’. That’s enough to make most readers irritable. In four consecutive paragraphs there are four repetitions of ‘repulsion/repulsive’ on p119.

Yet his writing is famous for good reason. Digging deep into human psyche, perhaps: ‘She leaned down to him and gripped him tightly round the neck, pressing him to her bosom in a little frenzy of pain. Her bitter disillusionment with life, her unalleviated shame and degradation during the last four years, had driven her into loneliness, and hardened her till a large part of her nature was caked and sterile.’ (p40)  And from the other point of view, we have: ‘Geoffrey pressed her to his bosom: having her, he felt he could bruise the lips of the scornful, and pass on erect, unabateable. With her to complete him, to form the core of him, he was firm and whole. Needing her so much, he loved her fervently.’ (p41) Nothing graphic, but heartfelt, it seems.

No man is an island, yet each person has the potential to be isolated and alone even in a crowded room. In many of these stories, he tackles that aloneness, trying to come to terms with it.

From time to time writers need to read earlier writers’ work, to learn how they did it. And of course if you’re planning on writing a historical piece, then immerse yourself in the work of writers from that period, to gauge the style of dialogue and the vocabulary used.

My favourite D.H. Lawrence books are The Rainbow and Women in Love.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

An old review referenced on Wikipedia!

I was surprised to find that one of my reviews from 1990 was referenced in a Wikipedia entry:

Book review - Carnosaur Weekend

This is a slim sci-fi volume from the prolific pen of Garnett Elliott, comprising three short stories, some 80 pages of fast-paced action.

It’s the future, about 2223 AD. Human history has taken some knocks – but was intact, though only thanks to  Continuity Inc, an organisation that snapped up the contract going begging when the government Time Corps was deregulated. Continuity Inc agents are dedicated to protecting human history. And it needs protecting since the discovery of time travel using a Zygma projector.

Continuity Inc’s headquarters had been based within the lava tunnels of the Kerguelen Plateau, a micro-continent submerged beneath the Indian Ocean. However, funding sources had slashed their budget and the entire operation had been moved to a renovated theatre in London’s West End.

Two agents of Continuity Inc are Kyler Knightly and his uncle, Damon Cole.  In ‘Carnosaur Weekend’ they’re investigating some real estate developers who had somehow obtained a Zygma projector and were offering ultra-modern homes in prehistoric earth; ‘no breathing apparatus required, golf, swimming, and tennis amenities, against a breath-taking backdrop of megaflora and fauna’ – that includes dinosaurs!

This story could have been called ‘Carnosaur Carnage’ because there’s plenty of blood and gore to satisfy the most blood-thirsty palate.  There’s also humour and satire thrown in for good measure. It goes beyond Ray Bradbury’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’.

In this future, people seem attracted by others’ wealth – 2.2 billion SMU (Standard Monetary Units). Physical attraction has relevance, too, though those who can afford it can buy their muscles and good looks. ‘… somewhere beneath that dress, Kyler felt certain, there were scars from multiple organ transplants, and injection sites for anagathics.’

Kyler is also a Dreamer, someone gifted or cursed with dreaming of events that might happen. It can be useful – or frustrating. When things go pear-shaped, he couldn’t have thought in his wildest dreams what would happen…

In ‘The Zygma Gambit’ Kyler dreams that his uncle is at risk of sabotage on his next time jaunt.  As Damon disagrees, Kyler takes matters into his own hands and becomes his uncle’s substitute and projects to the fourth moon of Caliban, 2750 AD. This jaunt is essential to the continuity of the Zygma project. But there’s a conspiracy and it threatens not only Kyler, his uncle, but the entire project. A slick twist ending.

The third story is a bonus, a non-Zygma tale, ‘The Worms of Terpsichore’, the kind of horror sci-fi that inspired countless B-movies. The space ship crew of Astarte is investigating the loss of the Sallust on the blue planet Terpsichore Five. What they encounter is gruesome and insidious, and the worms of the title are truly nasty pieces of work.

Overall, an imaginative, inventive, amusing and fast-paced volume.

I’ve posted a shorter version of this review on Amazon.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Book review - Love Among the Haystacks

David Herbert Lawrence was a prolific writer of short stories. This book collects six: ‘Love among the haystacks’ (1930), ‘The lovely lady’ (1933), ‘Rawdon’s Roof’ (1928), ‘The rocking-horse winner’ (1926), ‘The man who loved islands’ (1929) and ‘The man who died’ (1929). Lawrence died in 1930, aged 44.

‘Love among the haystacks’ is a well-observed bucolic episode in the lives of two brothers, Maurice, the youngest, and Geoffrey. It suffers from the use of dialect, which slows the pace and hinders the reader’s comprehension. The brothers are working in the fields, stacking hay. The local vicar joins them briefly accompanied by his children’s governess, a Pole, Paula, who is about the same age as the brothers. Accidentally on purpose, Geoffrey topples Maurice from the haystack; fortunately, he survives the fall and is presently administered to by Paula: ‘Maurice lay pale and smiling in her lap, whilst she cleaved to him like a mate. One felt instinctively that they were mated.’ (p18)

Geoffrey befriends Lydia, the wife of a tramp who sponges off the field labourers. Lydia’s story is a tragic one, told in the barn while the pair shelter from rain. The boys get their girls.

‘The Lovely Lady’ concerns the unpleasant Pauline Attenborough, 72, her niece Cecilia and her son Robert. Strange, that of all the names to choose, Lawrence opts for Paula in the above story and Pauline in this one. Pauline was ‘lovely’ in the sense that she appeared to most people to be only half her age in looks. Robert’s elder brother died in odd circumstances. Cecilia is attracted to Robert, but his domineering mother is in the way. The only person Pauline ever loved was herself. A story about power and lost love.

‘Rawdon’s Roof’ is a rather slight tale. Rawdon insisted that no woman would ever sleep again under his roof. Laced with wry humour: ‘One looked at the roof, and wondered what it had done amiss.’ The reason for Rawdon’s ire is a failed love affair, of no great consequence.  A little irony and an amusing confusion of names are not enough to quicken interest.

‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’ is known as a ghost story, which is a shame, as that fact detracts from some of the surprise. It was published in The Ghost Book edited by Cynthia Asquith.  A beautiful mother found she could not love her children – a boy and two girls. There was never enough money for them to maintain their social standing in the town. ‘The house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money!’ (p82) The family seemed to have no luck in the money stakes. Uncle Oscar visits regularly and catches young Paul on his rocking-horse, riding a ‘winner’ in his imagination. Then he announces the name of the winning horse – Sansovino at Ascot, which won last week! Paul has a strong affinity with the butler, Bassett, who likes a flutter on the horses. Before long, Paul’s racing on the rocking-horse suggests winners of races yet to be run, and both Bassett and Paul and eventually Uncle Oscar dabble successfully. Paul is striving to grasp the luck that his parents lack, so they can be happy. It ends tragically.

‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ is about Mr Cathcart, who bought an island and was master of all he surveyed. There also dwell in a few cottages an old married couple, a widower and his son and two daughters. So he wasn’t quite alone. Financial circumstances prompted the islander to move to a smaller island, where he took the widower and his daughter to work for him. On this second island ‘there were no human ghosts, no ghosts of any ancient race. The sea, and the spume and the weather had washed them all out, washed them out so there was only the sound of the sea itself, its own ghost, myriad-voiced, communing and plotting and shouting all winter long.’ (p110) He has sex with the daughter, Flora, and she becomes pregnant. He flees to a third island, wanting to be stripped of humanity, wanting nothing to do with his fellow men and women. He seeks emptiness. A wasted life.

‘The Man Who Died’ was originally titled ‘The Escaped Cock’. There are echoes from the previous story: ‘In his own world he was alone, utterly alone. These things around him were in a world that had never died. But he himself had died, or had been killed from out of it, and all that remained now was the great void nausea of utter disillusion.’ (p130) The dead man walking is a resurrected Christ who falls in love with a priestess of Isis. It ends with the phrase ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ – the same ending found in Gone With the Wind!

I’ve read a number of D.H. Lawrence’s books and found this one a disappointment. He distances himself from the characters, and tells the stories rather than shows us through emotions. Yet his observation of nature is excellent, so much so that you can almost smell the flowers, feel the stubble of the cut wheat and the damp presence of rain and sea surf. 

The cover of this copy (1981) was one of a series by Yvonne Gilbert.

Hilarious Holiday complaints-02

Lighten the mood, perhaps, with a selection of holiday complaints gleaned from the twitter account @HolidayComplain.

Complaints made by British travellers while abroad (I don't know if they were true, but if they were on Twitter they must be, no?):

  • Our jug of sangria didn't have a wide-ranging fruit selection in it.
  • The bottle of shampoo provided at the hotel was clearly meant for midgets
  • It should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.
  • The beans on my Full English breakfast definitely were not Heinz.
  • We went to Turkey and there was far too many Turkish people for my liking.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Book review - The Towers of Trebizond

I’ve had this book in my library for about 33 years and have only now got round to reading it.

Rose Macaulay’s best-selling novel (her last, published in 1956) has a highly memorable and well-known beginning:

“Take my camel, dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

They’re in Oxfordshire, England, by the way.

The camel was a gift from a rich desert tycoon to Aunt Dot, the eccentric well-travelled Dorothea ffoulkes-Corbett. The book follows the adventures of the narrator, Laurie with her Aunt Dot and her High Anglican clergyman friend Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg (who keeps his collection of sacred relics in his pockets).  Aunt Dot, a member of an Anglo-Catholic missionary society, is determined to write a book about the women of Turkey, perhaps freeing them from ‘the Moslem treatment of women’. Father Chantry-Pigg was concerned that the men of the East were shocked by bare-headed and bare-armed women, since it ‘led to unbridled temptation among men.’ To which Aunt Dot responded, most sensibly, ‘Men must learn to bridle their temptations.’

Laurie points out that her family has a tenacious adherence to the English Church. ‘With it has come down to most of us a great enthusiasm for catching fish. Aunt Dot maintains that this propensity is peculiarly Church of England; she has perhaps made a slight confusion between the words Anglican and angling.’ (p9) Indeed, one of their relatives prepared sermons while fishing, believing his vocation to be a fisher of men.

There’s quite a lot about religion, poking fun at various aspects of the church, yet there’s an underlying concern for ‘the truth’ and ‘sin’. As can be seen, there’s wit aplenty; they always seem to be tripping over spies – ‘we saw so many British spies in disguised spying in Turkey…’ Father Chantry-Pigg was intent on converting the men from the Koran, ‘though he had his work cut out, since the second half of his name was a handicap with Moslems.’ (p40)

Their group is also following in the footsteps of a BBC radio crew, Seventh Day Adventists and followers of Billy Graham. As Aunt Dot says, ‘We shall all be tumbling over each other. Abroad isn’t at all what it was.’

Laurie’s state of mind is troubled by guilt. She embarked on an affair with a married man, Vere. This echoes her own life, as she carried on a 24-year affair with ex-priest and author Gerald O’Donovan until he died in 1942.

The narrator is not named as ‘Laurie’ until well into the book; this could have been corrected by inserting her name in the first sentence. Many paragraphs are a page or more long, and some sentences go on for a dozen or so lines, and the mystery that is religion is perhaps a little dated now. It is clear that it’s partly autobiographical, with excellent observation throughout, laced with wit and mischievous candour. Here’s a breathless sentence:

‘All these things Trebizond held for me, and I left Rize very early next morning to get there, and when at noon I came to Xenophon’s Camp and the Pyxitis, with its mouths spreading about into the sea, and the great mass of Boz Tepe ahead, and Eleousa Point, and the harbour bay at its foot where the fishing boats lay in deep purple water for the noon rest, and west of the harbour the white-walled, red-roofed town and the wood-grown height beyond it between the two deep ravines, where the ancient citadel stood in ruin, with house and gardens climbing up among its broken walls, I felt as if I had come not home, not at all home, but to a place which had some strange hidden meaning, which I must try to dig up.’ (pp108/109)

This is an amusing, humorous and enjoyable novel; it may have ruffled some religious feathers when published, now it might upset a few advocates of political correctness. Sprinkled within the travelogue are thoughts about love, sex, life, organized churches, religion, the ancient magicians of Trebizond, the confusion of mis-translation in a foreign land, the plagiarism of travel writers, a fixation with Circassian slaves, international politics, book reviewers, traitors and Bedawins (‘they sound dangerous when spelt like that’) (p154), the training of an ape to play chess and  croquet (‘a very good game for people who are annoyed with one another, giving many opportunities for venting rancour.’ (p188)

Rose Macauley died in 1958, aged 77.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Visitors - part 2 of 2


Part 2 of 2

Nik Morton
writing as Ross Morton

“Oh, Ma, you’re hurt!” wailed Alice, rushing forward while Frank positioned the strong wooden bar across the door. Ethan fired, probably at the Apache who’d thrown the knife.
            Kate felt faint but knew she had to keep going or everything would be lost. She sank onto a straight-backed chair at the wooden table and put down her rifle. She noticed her hand trembled as she lifted it to touch her temple. She had a humdinger of a headache and her fingers came away sticky and bloody. “It’s nothing, dear,” she said. “Get a damp cloth and clean it up – the blood’s getting in my eye.”
            “I got the swine who hit you, Ma,” said Ethan.
 “I got the other one,” Frank said, his tone without triumph, simply stating a fact. “He won’t be throwing any more knives.”
Kate marveled at both of her sons. Frank and Ethan were sturdy fifteen-year-olds and plumb good shots.
            “They’re going,” said Ethan.
            “For now,” added Frank.
            “Keep an eye out,” Kate said. “We’ve killed perhaps two of them so they’ll want revenge at the very least. They’ll be back.”
            With shaking fingers, Alice used a cloth to mop her mother’s head-wound. “What was all that about, Ma? You seemed to be getting on alright with their leader. Then it all turned nasty.”
            Probably all about male pride, I shouldn’t wonder.” Kate forced a smile. God knows, she thought, we women have enough to contend with out West, with men treating us like drudges, baby factories and unpaid labour, but heaven help us if we stood up to them in public! At least Bill had gradually seen the light – after a few heated discussions. Kate suspected that the marital bed had something to do with his appreciation of his wife’s role in the family unit.
            That brought back long buried bitter memories of her time in the wagon train, when she and Bill were newly-wed on their way out West. Then, they fought off many Indian attacks with single action rifles that overheated and misfired. Those days, they did a lot of killing, just to survive.
            The Apache fired their rifles, their bullets pounding into the door and window shutters. But they didn’t shoot too often and Kate guessed that they were low on ammo – an expensive luxury on the reservation.
            This hard land had made Kate a strong woman, but after a while she found it difficult to heft the nine pounds of weapon to her shoulder and fire. The recoil was fearsome and she was sure that if they survived this raid, she’d have an almighty bruise to show for her efforts. Yet neither twin betrayed any sign of discomfort. Their father would be proud of them. Her heart lurched. If only Bill would come back soon!
            The Indian Wars were as good as over when Bill had insisted that they build their homestead up against the mountain. “We ain’t going to be surrounded, Kate Bartlett, no way!” he informed her. “If a few hostiles take it into their heads to raise some scalps, they’re going to have to ride full into our Winchester sights!” They had windows on three sides – Frank covered the east, Kate the south and Ethan the west. At their backs were the bedrooms and beyond them a deep cavern which used to be sweet home to a bear but was now their winter store for foodstuffs.

“Fire!” Kate called out again, her voice already hoarse from the shouting and the infernal smoke from the Winchester rifles. The smell of burnt powder was cloying and caught at the back of her throat. The fusillade from three weapons thundered in the close confines of the log cabin. Alice hadn’t been given a rifle as she’d agreed that she was a lousy shot. “Sure, I can hit a barn, but those ‘Pache ain’t big enough for me.”
            “Yeah, but I reckon you could talk them to death,” suggested had Ethan.
            “I cain’t!” she snapped back.
            “Hey,” Kate said, “let’s think about the enemy – and I mean outside the family!”
            All three of her children laughed and that made her feel good, despite their predicament. Now, Alice handed her a freshly loaded rifle. “Here, Ma, swap.”
            Kate was proud of Alice too. She was thirteen and already filling out her dress so that the Henderson’s boys had trouble averting their eyes. She took after her mother in that department, and had also inherited her auburn hair and hazel eyes. Now her eyes shone, long lashes blinking against the smoke.
            “You okay, love?” Kate asked.
Alice nodded, the back of her hand brushing a smudge of burnt powder across a rosy cheek.
Kate carefully handed over her Winchester and Alice took it by the stock as the barrel was hot.        Alice moved to the center of the room and dipped a cloth in a water-bucket then wrung it out. She used the cloth to cool down the barrel; it hissed like a snake and steam fronds twirled.
            There were four other water-buckets. Their primary purpose was to douse any fires that flaming arrows might cause. At least Bill had used slate cut from the mountain at their back to cover the roof.
            The Apaches had tried firing flaming arrows at the roof, but they didn’t last. They even attempted using arrows with burning sagebrush attached and they did leak some smoke down through the rafters, but they were soon extinguished since there was nothing else to burn up there.
            Kate glanced at the mantel clock as it chimed. The whooping and hollering of the Apaches had been going on now for over two hours. Kate realized that now whenever they spoke, they all sounded hoarse, choking in the muggy confines of the cabin that was clogged with smoke and cordite. Two hours was an awful long time when you’re fighting for your life, she thought. You get to be real acquainted with fear, taking it for granted after a while. And the close proximity of death becomes all too familiar. She reckoned they’d accounted for two more Apaches in that time. Frank had received a ricochet wound on his cheek and that was all they’d suffered so far.

“Ma, look at this!” Frank called. “What d’you make of it?”
            Beyond the barn, Gray Wolf was in a heated discussion with one of the young Apaches. Arms were flung about in emphasis then abruptly Gray Wolf turned away and leapt onto his pony. He barked something at the young warrior then urged his mount back the way they’d come two hours or so ago.
            “Oh, shit,” Frank said, “he’s going for reinforcements!”
            “Frank, I won’t have that kind of language in our home, you hear?”
            Docilely, he nodded. “Yeah, Ma.”
            “That’ll be a yes, I think.”
            “Yes, Ma.”
            “Oh, no – they’ve lit the barn!” Ethan called out. He let off a couple of shots.
            Her heart sinking, Kate moved over to Ethan’s gun-slit. She put a hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Don’t shoot unless you have a target, son.” Sure enough, flames were already licking the sides of their barn, gray-brown smoke curling slantwise in a slight breeze.
            “Our cows – and Wilhemina!” Alice said, sobbing.
            “We can’t do anything about them, honey,” Kate said and gritted her teeth.
            “Here they come again!” shouted Ethan.
            Kate rushed over to her window slit. “Don’t shoot too soon,” she commanded.
            Two Apaches rode from the east, hiding behind their mounts’ bodies. A thin trail of smoke followed behind them, as if the horses’ tails were peeling away.
            “They’re going to burn us out!” shouted Frank.
            “Make your bullets count!” Kate said.
            Frank fired – once, twice, three times. They were anxious moments, as Kate couldn’t see what was happening. But she heard the pounding hoofs. Then a single horse came into view, with its rider’s leg slung round its neck. She drew a bead on the animal and fired. The poor horse made a horrible sound and stumbled, but it didn’t stop the Apache, he leapt over the falling animal and rolled to Kate’s right, out of sight.
            Abruptly, there was a double thudding sound at the base of the door.
            “What was that?” Alice asked, her voice high-pitched.
            The sound of loud splintering came through the door as the Apache used his axe on the timbers.
            Hurrying to the center of the room, Kate braced herself and fired from her hip, four times, blasting at the wooden door. She heard a single howl and a grunt then the Apache fell to the boards.
            “I reckon you got him, Ma!” Ethan shouted.
            “I got the other one,” said Frank. “He ain’t moving, neither.”
            Math wasn’t her strong point but even she could work out that only five were left – until Gray Wolf returned with other disgruntled Apache runaways.
            “There’s smoke under the door!” Alice said, pointing.
            “Use your bucket, quickly!”
            “Yes, Ma.” Carrying the bucket, Alice threw water at the base of the door.
            A single shot rang out, but it wasn’t from a Winchester.
            Alice stumbled back, dropping the empty bucket to the floorboards. “Oh my God,” she wailed, “I’ve been shot!”
            Gritting her teeth, Kate fired three more rounds at the door, lower down and then heard the satisfying sound of the man rolling off the boards and slumping to the ground.
            “No more coming,” Ethan said.
            Kate laid the rifle on the table and rushed over to Alice. “Let me see, love,” she said, hugging her daughter against her.
            Alice’s body was racked with sobs. Kate’s heart pounded in fear for her children. “Please God,” she whispered, “spare me any more heartache.”
            Moving Alice over to a chair by the table, she got Alice to sit. “Let’s have a look.”
            Alice nodded, biting her lip. She was in pain, obviously, but she was fighting it.
            Carefully, Kate tore away the top of Alice’s dress at the shoulder, where it was bloodstained.
The Apache must have fired a pistol through the door. The wood had slowed the bullet’s progress and it had lodged in Alice’s shoulder, just against the bone. 
            “It’ll hurt like Hell,” Kate said, “but you’re going to be alright.”
            “Hey, you said Hell–”
            “Ethan, enough!” Kate said sharply. She turned back to Alice. “I can dig it out later. For now, I’ll stop the bleeding and bandage it up. Alright?”
            “Yes, Ma – whatever you say, but it does hurt – a lot.”
            “Be brave,” Kate said, tearing a strip from Alice’s white under-slip. “I know how it feels, honey. I was hit with an arrow – and I was breastfeeding Frank at the time – or was it Ethan?”
            “Ma, d’you mind?” moaned Ethan.
            Kate chuckled. “That’s what mothers do, you know, embarrass their boys when they become young men.”
            Despite the pain, Alice let out a little laugh.
            But the good humor was cut short as they heard a solid thumping sound on the roof. “That wasn’t an arrow,” said Alice ominously.
            “No,” said Kate. “One of them must have climbed up on the mountainside and jumped down onto the roof.”
            “It only needs one or two of them to get in here and we’re to Hell and gone, Ma.”
            “Ethan, I’ve already had cause to remonstrate with Frank. We’ll have less of that kind of talk, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, Ma.”
“But you’re right enough,” Kate added as she glanced up at the rafters. The sound of slate tiles being bashed with some implement was disheartening; dust fell through the cracks.
Frank aimed his rifle at the roof.
“No, don’t shoot!” Kate warned. “There could be a ricochet from the stone.”
“But, Ma, we can’t–”
“We wait.” Turning to Alice, she said, “Keep an eye on those rafters. At the first sign of daylight, call me.”
Alice swallowed and nodded.
The Apache on the roof continued to bash at the roof tiles.
“Back to your windows,” she ordered Frank and Ethan.
Ethan poked his rifle barrel through the slit when suddenly it was grabbed and jerked upwards, wrenching his trigger finger. “Ouch!” he cried. Hastily, he grabbed the stock and tugged but the Apache holding the barrel wasn’t letting go. “Ma, he’s got my gun!”
Kate rushed to stand beside Ethan and aimed her rifle at the slit where the barrel was still being held from outside. She fired through the wooden shutter twice.
Even above the sound of the Apache demolishing a portion of their roof, Kate heard the grunt as Ethan’s rifle fell back inside. There was some scuffling on the other side of the window, but whoever it was didn’t move away.
            Nobody wanted to poke a rifle barrel through the window slits in case they were grabbed again. They could all hear the shuffling footfalls of the Apache along the veranda boards. They seemed to be biding their time. For darkness, perhaps.

The sun was sinking and the sky showed a full moon through Frank’s gun-slit when the Apaches made their final attempt.
            Alice stood at the table, watching the rafters. But now with the onset of dusk there was less chance of her seeing daylight. On the table was a collection of loaded rifles and fresh ammunition. An oil lamp hung from one of the ceiling rafters and cast its buttery light on Kate, Ethan and Frank who stood in the middle of the room and covered the windows and the doorway.
The Apache on the roof redoubled his efforts and bits of slate tile tumbled to the floor and shattered. Two Apache used hatchets on the door while the east and west window shutters were also succumbing to ax blades.
“Don’t shoot till they’re inside – make it count!” Kate ordered. Her body trembled but not with fear. She was so angry. She’d spent the best years of her life bringing a family into this harsh world and they were going to be slaughtered because of a hothead’s whim.
The twins had been toddlers by the time their cabin was being built, but Alice was born here. The look of joy on their faces as they learned to walk, the absolute innocent pleasure they showed at the smallest of achievements. Tears ran down Kate’s cheeks and she let them be.
Kate Bartlett braced herself for the onslaught.

A large section of the ceiling fell in with a couple of rafters. It was utter chaos. The Apache tumbled in at the same time, shrieking triumph. It seemed to be the call to the others and their efforts with axes quickened in pace. The lantern swayed, light and shadow cavorting on the walls.
            As the Indian landed in front of her, Kate swirled round and squeezed the trigger. The shot was at point-blank range and the Apache bundled into her as the bullet bore into his chest. The weight of him pushed her back and she lost her footing and fell under him. His limp hand grasped a huge knife and it stabbed into the floorboards an inch from her ear.
            The window shutters splintered.
            “Ma, they’re breaking in!” Alice screamed.
            The door crashed off its hinges, its panels in pieces.
            Hardly able to breathe with the dead man on top of her, Kate croaked, “Fire!” 

“Hold your fire!” shouted Gray Wolf from the porch.
            There was a blood-covered young Apache men standing at the east and west windows and two in the doorway. Gray Wolf’s voice stopped them in their tracks. All of them were breathing heavily, blood, war paint and sweat glistening in the swaying lantern’s light.
            The two men in the breached doorway stood aside and Gray Wolf stepped in. He gave the place a hasty glance, noting the levelled rifles on him and the men at the windows. Purposefully, he strode over to Kate and heaved the dead Apache off her. He took her hand, helped her up and said, “I have brought the reservation police to take these men away. They have been foolhardy and will be punished.”
            Kate nodded and her voice croaked with a combination of smoke, anxiety and lack of water. “Foolhardy, but brave too.”
            He gestured at Ethan, Frank and Alice. “You have brave children, also.”
            “I will protect them unto death,” Kate said, surprised at the steel in her voice.
            “I do not doubt it,” he said, eyeing her hand.
            Then she noticed she was still holding her rifle.
“But it is not necessary,” he said and turned on his heel and walked outside, barking orders.
Gingerly crossing her once-lovely wooden floor that was now littered with spent cartridge cases and discoloured by water- and bloodstains, she followed him. She stepped over the broken door and stood on the veranda.
            Docilely, the remaining four absentees from the reservation shuffled towards the waiting Indian police who were dressed in ill-fitting uniforms.
            Gray Wolf was directing another Indian to bring over a wagon. For the dead and wounded.
            Seeing an Apache lying face down barely ten feet off, Kate turned away. So pointless, all of it. Her eyes filled with tears – relief or released tension, she didn’t know which, or cared for that matter. She breathed in the muggy night air, glad to be alive.
            Whooping and yelling, the corpse near her came to sudden and startling life. The Apache was wounded in the thigh but certainly not dead and he was charging her with a hatchet.
She felt the color drain from her cheeks. Arms ached as she lifted the Winchester. The surcease of punishing recoil made her reluctant to place the stock against her shoulder even one more time. Reluctantly, she nestled the wood against her bruised body.
Even in the dusk she could see his teeth and the gleam in his eyes as the Apache kept on running towards her.
            The sound of the Henry rifle seemed to echo back from the mountain. She recognized its distinctive report and watched as the impetuous young Apache shrieked and fell to the dust.
Kate lowered her rifle as Gray Wolf strode back, helped the wounded Apache to his feet and led him to a wagon.
My God, Kate thought, Bill only wounded him in the arm!
            “Did you see that, Ma?”
            “I sure did, Ethan.”
            “Now, that’s shootin’!” enthused Frank.
            “I can still hit a barn with any gun,” opined Alice.
            Their weapons lowered, her children gathered around Kate.
The wagons moved out with the wounded and dead.
Gray Wolf smoothly mounted his pony and then waved a kind of salute to the crest of the hill, where Bill Bartlett sat astride his big black stallion, silhouetted by the rising moon.
            Later, as Bill rode over the wrecked picket fence, he said, “You been partyin’ while I was gone?”
            “Heck, no,” Kate said, brushing a stray lank of hair off her brow. “A social call, is all. Just visitors.”

Copyright 2009, 2016 Nik Morton
If you liked this story, you might like the following westerns:

A Fistful of Legends anthology
Bullets for a Ballot
Coffin for Cash
Livin’ on Jacks and Queens anthology

Western Tales Vol 5 anthology
The Magnificent Mendozas – a variation on the famous Magnificent Seven
Old Guns
Battling Mahoney and Other Stories anthology
Write a Western in 30 Days – with plenty of bullet points