We did it.

Collapsing on the tennis court, he clutched his heart. Voices echoed above his head, but he did not recognise any of them through his delirium.

Then, a hand brushed his cheek and tears dripped onto his face. Looking up, he could see his wife, Mary, sobbing, as she held him to her chest.

A siren announced the arrival of the Paramedics, and shortly after he was in the Ambulance, Mary by his side. But he did not make it. His heart gave a weak beat, and then was still.

“He’s gone,” the Paramedic beside Mary whispered.

Nodding dumbly, the enormity of the tast ahead of her was not yet in her mind.

Dairy farmers, Mary and Doug had three young children. Coming from the City, Mary spent her time in the house, while Doug ran the farm. Her job was to make sure there were clean clothes on everyone’s backs, and food on the table. Doug’s sudden death changed this.

Her Mother rang from Sydney, to ask her to move back with them.

“No Mum. I’m fine. I want to raise the kids here.”

Smiling, she hung the phone down.

With Doug buried a week ago, it was now to get up and have “a go” of it. The children, the eldest six years old and the youngest only two, Mary had much to do.

Firstly, she spoke with the Dairy Hand. The Dairy Hand, a young lady in her twenties, had grown up on a Dairy Farm and was working her way through a Vet Nurse Course. Well informed and intelligent, Diane had many skills and insights. It was Diane, who taught Mary how to attach the milking machine to the cow’s udders, and who gave suggestions on the best grass seeds to sow in the fallow paddocks.

The three children all had their own jobs too. Six year old Claire had the job of chasing the cows into the yard so the herd could be encouraged into the herring bone structure where they were milked. With Bennie, their cattle dog, she would wake earlier than her siblings and ride the four wheeler bike down to where the black and white splotched Fresians were.

Years later, she would realise this was not normal, but as a child it made her feel important.

Looking back, Mary, Claire and the children, have no idea how they did it. All stayed on the Dairy Farm, until adulthood.

Claire still lives and operates the farm.

“It was the best childhood ever,” she laughed to her Mother, as Mary sat in the sunshine at the local Nursing Home.

Mary’s smile stretched her lips too, at this.

“Yes, we did it, didn’t we.”

Date

It had occured to me earlier during the night, that my date was not going the way I wanted it to. I was meant to be sitting in a rich and luxurious restaurant with beautiful Madonna waitresses attending to my every need…and my new girlfriend’s. THAT’S where the problem lay.

Josephine glared at me. This was our first date.

During the day, I had rung the local Visitor Information Centre, where I had been reliably directed to this particular restaurant. My needs were great. It was to serve lovely food, be well furnished with stylish and elegant decore, complete with wonderful wait staff.

This was the place of choice that had been highly recommended by a strong country accent. Hey, not even the table had a cloth on it. The waitress hovered over the table closest to ours.

“Well, Mike. You could have invited me to a nicer place than this,” she huffed. “And on our first date too. It’s not as though we’ve been married for 30 years and the spark has disappeared.”

I could see that whatever spark there had been was fast being snuffed out.

“There are even stains on the wall.” She pointed to a yellow irregular pattern on the stretch of plaster nearest our table.

Really, I could see her point. My mind did not want to imagine where the stain came from or what it might be. My eyes found her blue ones and I desperately hoped they looked apologetic. The waitress vanished back into the kitchen.

But then, the most marvellous smells came from the little kitchen hidden at the back of the restaurant. The waitress came whizzing out, food steaming in her hands and balanced on her arms.

My date sniffed the air. The plates were placed in front of us on the little bare table. Cutlery hastily followed the food in being set down.

Josephine delicately picked up the fork. She dug it tentatively into the rissotto. I stared, hope against hope that she didn’t choke on it. And then, she smiled, digging her fork in again and again.

As tentatively as my date had, I pushed some of my ravioli onto the fork and raised it to my lips. Closing my eyes tightly, I put the fork in my mouth. The most heavenly divine taste, perfectly balanced in every way, exploded on my tongue. My taste buds were dancing with excitement.

Standing nearby, the waitress was watching us. She winked.

Piece of paper

The rain sodden road reflected the street lamps, the light bouncing off the hard otherwise black surface. It was pretty, she reflected, or would have been if it was not for the tank that was stationed outside her window.

Looming out of the night, the bulk of the war machine infuriated her, as did her brother’s desire to join the troops in the war. But then again, if it was not for him going to the Front, she would not have her independence. Being a woman before the war had been restrictive, but now, without the men around, she was having far more fun.

But the cost had been great. The women folk of the township had their independence, but they had lost all the same. Her hands fidgetted with a piece of paper.

Her mind roved her past, coming up with bizaar memories. It rested on one in particular… the last time she had seen Chad before he had left for the war.

It had been a weekend retreat that they had disappeared off on. Mother was not to know. Mother did not approve of Chad going to fight. So sister and brother had hired a cabin close to the lake just outside their home town. It was their final time together before Chad was going away; for how long no one knew.

Hot words had been flung at him.

“FOOL!” she had hurled at Chad.

His face had clouded with anger and hurt that night. “I’m not a fool, Tracey. I’m not. I just want to join my friends on their adventure.”

“It’s not an adventure, Chad. It’s death and disaster and all that’s bad.”

Then, his anger had melted and he had cried, silent tears running down his cheeks.

“I thought of all people, you would understand, sister.”

And he had not talked to her since.

The piece of paper fluttered to the ground. It was now her face that ran with tears, as she felt a gnawing pain. She was right, had always been right, but now it was a cold comfort. The piece of paper was final proof she was right, for it was a telgram. Chad was dead.

Lucky

My brother walked into the room, breathless with laughter, a beer in one hand and his mobile in the other. Accompanying him was Sue, his wife and Best Friend. She was my Best Friend too and we had grown very fond of each other before they were even married. It was storm season, when the thunder and lightning came with the rain.

“On the following Friday, we packed our bags and planned our escape,” he was saying to someone on the phone.

“What’s that?” I asked, all ears.

“Oh, Belinda, didn’t you hear?” Sue’s eyes popped as she spoke with me, surprised I hadn’t kept up with the gossip.

“No, Sue. I have been snowed under with lots of work to do. Haven’t even had time to look at the News let alone keep up with family business.”

Sue stared at me in silence, as I felt great guilt for not keeping in contact. They had been away on a camping trip, while I had stayed home to catch up with the extra workload my Freelance Writing Business had generated that month.

But my brother, Troy, who was still laughing, hung up the phone.

“Well, Belinda, the river came up after the massive storm last week. Water flooded the camping grounds where we were staying, turning it into a temporary island. Only 4WD vehicles could get through. Not even our little tinny was useful, as the flood wasn’t high enough for it.”

I closed my mouth, becoming aware that it was open as I stared at him in disbelief. Normally, the camping grounds where he and Sue frequented, didn’t flood at this time of year.

Sue took up the rest of the story, as Troy stopped long enough to gulp at his beer.

“But then, on Friday, the river flooded even more, and so we had only a small window of about 2 hours to escape. We packed up our camping equipment and stashed it in our sedan. Then, we threw all our important possessions into the tinny, before heading back to dry land. The river was high enough during that little bit of time to use the tinny.”

Troy was nodding. “And both Sue and I had our daughter’s birthday party to get back in time for.”

“Lucky…” was all I could manage to say in response.

17 Cats

17 cats. How did he end up with 17 cats. And at his age! 60 years old was too old to have 17 cats. 

His only desire was to be left alone. That meant NOT having any cats, let alone 17 of the damned creatures! 

And then he remembered. The month before he’d been drinking with his mates, and a stunning woman had walked into the bar. Not only was she stunning, but she was even his age.

Before too long, he had been shouting her rounds, until he was under the table. 

The night after had been bliss. The scent of her captivated him, and they had gone home together…back to his place. 

Now, it was a month since they’d met and he was surrounded by 17 cats.  In the bed beside him, he could feel warmth radiating from something underneath the sheets. He tentatively reached out his fingers. No, it was not her. It was his hot water bottle.

  And then the next lot of memories came back.

  She had confessed that she was dying. This was to be her last tryst as the disease that melted her insides was tightening its grip. She had no one to leave her 17 cats to. 

In the depths of passion, last week, he was chivalrous. In her will she had left them to him! And now, she was in the village morgue, awaiting burial by her cat hating family. 

Youth

It was THE day. Time to shine. Laurie stood before the mirror in the green room back of stage.

Could she dazzle the crowd who sat in the audience? If only her Alchemist brother has been there too. He had been working on a secret recipe, refusing to tell anyone what it was.

A teenager was putting on a costume nearby. Oh to be young again. But Laurie was in her 50s. Some said she was still young, but she knew they were only being kind.

The 50 year old actress looked at the teenager again. Then she remembered. That youth was Renee. Renee had asked her a peculiar question when they met on Tuesday. The teen was having trouble with some of her lines and had asked Laurie to mentor her.

After putting on the costume, Renee approached the older lady and her now mentor.

Shyly handing Laurie a letter, she blushed.

Laurie took the envelope. The stamp on the front declared it was from Amsterdam. It must be a letter from her brother.

Ripping it open, she unfolded a letter, written in her brother’s scrawl. A vial of brown liquid tumbled onto her hand as she did so.

Eyes scanned the letter excitedly, but one sentence stood out.

“This vial is the end product of my project and is the Elixir of Youth.”

As soon as she was alone, she promised herself, she’d drink it!

Dragon’s Ire

Night had fallen on the little village, while Wilkes walked home. Nervously looking behind him, he saw the sun set just before he reached his brother’s house. 

“Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you all over!” announced his sister as she answered the door. His brother could be seen standing just inside the hallway. 

“Amie, please let him in,” his brother, Sage, rescued him from any more questions. “The main thing is that he’s here.” 

Wilkes wearily entered the long hallway. It ran half the length of the house, starting at the front door and ending at the little living room towards the back yard. 

“Okay, Wilkes, what news do you bring?” Sage questioned, now that all three of them were inside. 

Wilkes’ sad eyes looked into Sage’s curious ones, and then Amie’s. 

“The Dragon burnt down the village over the hill. He’s on his way here.” 

Amie’s eyes were round, as Sage gasped. 

“What about everyone? Did anyone escape?” asked Amie. 

“I don’t know, Ames,” Wilkes shook his head. 

All three hung their heads, silent in the glare from the happy little fire obediently staying in the fireplace. It sputtered a little and Sage picked up the poker to stir it. But a Salamanda appeared, bright and golden. Sage leapt backwards, but the Salamanda stayed inside the fire and didn’t attempt to crawl out. 

“I bring tidings,” she hissed. 

Wilkes, Sage and Amie all stared at her. A Salamanda in their fireplace? This was most unusual. 

“Yes,” ventured Sage. 

“The Dragon is changing course. For today, you are safe.” 

“And what of the Villagers?” Amie croaked out of a dry throat. 

“All safe. What’s more, your parents will be arriving tonight.” 

And with that, the fire flared and the Salamanda was gone. 

The Swamp

He wandered, not sure whether it was aimless or not. Lost on the path that was meant to be taking him home.

Was it the right path?

It had occurred to him that this path might not be going in the direction it was meant too.

He’d narrowly escaped the clutches of the Swamp Witch, and was now looking for the way home.

The forest was enchanted. Gerard knew that much. Around knobs and hollows in the trees fairies buzzed. Their different coloured auras looked like tiny moving lights in the gloom.

And in patches where the light shone through the dense canopy, little gnome villages could be seen, their red and white toadstool shaped houses obvious if you knew where to look.

He walked past such a village, positive he’d seen it before.

But there ahead, he saw it. Proof that the path was deliberately leading him astray. The Swamp Witch’s house stood out, tall and proud in amongst the Swamp.

He smiled ruefully to himself.

Yep. The path home was enchanted too, and he didn’t have a clue as to how to get out.

Water

“I don’t want to go into the water, Mum,” my brother, Wilson, pleaded.

“Silly boy.” She shook her head and then her tail.

Mum, I don’t want to,” he complained again.

So, it was up to me, the big sister, to show the way.

I dipped a toe in, and then joined him in whinging.

“It’s all cold and wet feeling,” I told her.

Mother sighed.

“We’re designed to swim, both my silly ducklings.”

The others were already splashing around in the river, with our Father. This fear was humiliating.

Just then, we heard it. A rustling in the bushes. All three of us turned, and stared into two amber eyes.

“FOX!” yelled Wilson, and we raced each other to the riverbank and dived in. I looked around, and was relieved to see our Mother swimming towards us.

Looking back to where we had been, I saw the fox slunk off heading towards the cover of the forest.

“I told you the water was safe,” she admonished.

Once upon a time I would have resented her smugness, but today?

As Wilson and our other brothers and sisters joined us, and Father took up the rear, I was too relieved to care.

Big Billy

The wind was soft on his face, but the blood was pounding in his ears. He had never climbed a tree this high before. This tree climbing challenge was off the charts. It was even a bigger challenge than asking out Olivia, the most popular girl in the school.

“Climb Big Billy,” taunted Craig.

“Yeah, go on, Brendan. You can do it,” called out Chris.

Brendan had arisen to the dare. Big Billy was the tallest Eucalypt around these parts, and the tree had never been climbed before.

The group of school boys were too scared to scale Big Billy, so they had dared the shy bespectacled Brendan.

Wanting to prove himself had spurred him to action, with complete disregard to his own safety. Now, way up high, he was having misgivings.

All he wanted now was to have his two feet squarely on the ground.

“Um. Hello?” said a timid voice. “What are you doing in my tree?”

Glancing to his right, Brendan almost lost his grip on the bough he was clinging to. There, securely and serenely sitting in a fork, was a girl about his age, from school.

“S-sorry,” he stammered. “Is this *your* tree?”

“Yes. It’s my favourite place. I love the peace. No one’s been brave enough to climb as far as me.”

Brendan held his breath. Was she actually blushing?

Then he had a rush of excitement. She thought he was brave!

“Will you go out with me?” He held his breath again.

“Yes, of course I will.”

And with that, they climbed down the tree together, for both Craig and Chris to see.

As he and the girl came down out of the last branch, Craig and Chris were waiting.

But Brendan didn’t care.

“Hello? Meet my new date,” Olivia announced.