Tag Archives: Gypsy Publishing


4 Jun

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Jim Woods

Oxwagon by Jim Woods

The story opens with a very strange cargo for an oxwagon driver—the comatose body of a woman whose passage is paid by a man fearing for his life. When the driver takes on the load, he also takes on unexpected adventure for everyone involved on the long and perilous overland trip.


“Are you sure she’s alive? She looks dead to me and I don’t transport dead bodies for any price. For that matter I don’t take passengers either, so we have nothing to discuss. No deal.”

“Verdoem, man. Cover her back up; I don’t even want to look at her again. I’ve got to get rid of this woman. She’s driving me crazy and she tried to kill me.”

“Then why didn’t you just kill her? If she tried to kill you, you’d be justified. Unless, of course, she had reason to. But actually, I don’t want to know. I’m just not taking her on this trek.”

“Man, you’re in the transport business, and this is cargo I need transported. Why can’t you take my business? I’ll pay to have her transported to Fort Salisbury. Tell me, what are your rates?”

“But I do not take passengers, much less a woman. This is hard country. We barely survive it ourselves, what with the rains, the mud and the fever. And we lose oxen on every trek, if not to the lions, then to their exertion of pulling too much weight over bad country. Their strong hearts simply fail, or they break a leg and we have to shoot them. And when they get tired and cranky they fight among themselves. That’s why we take along extra teams of the animals. We lose too many on a trek. Don’t you understand? This trek is too hard as it is. No passengers to make it even worse!”

“Verdoem, Clayworth, this woman is not fit to be called a passenger. She’s freight, pure and simple. And if she does not survive the trip, I don’t care. Dump her off just by the side of the road as you would any other damaged freight. So, tell me. What is your rate to Fort Salisbury?”

“See here, now, Hannes. You know my rates very well. They’re the same as any other transporter’s. This won’t do you any good, but Johannesburg to Fort Salisbury is a three-leg trek. The first leg is from Johannesburg to Palachwe; the next is to Bulawayo; and the final leg is on to Fort Salisbury. My rates are twenty-five shillings per hundredweight, per leg. That’s seventy-five shillings. Man, you could buy her a salted horse for that if she wanted to go to Fort Salisbury and she could join a train on her own.”

“I never said she wanted to go to Fort Salisbury. I want her as far away as I can put her and Fort Salisbury fills that bill. Look, I know she’s swaarly, more than a hundredweight. I’ll double your price. One hundred and fifty shillings, a shilling for every pound, to take her with you all the way to Fort Salisbury. Dump her off there and she’ll never find her way back here again. What do you say?”

“I say no, just as I’ve been trying to tell you. No passengers. Passengers have to eat and the trip takes twenty to thirty weeks and that’s if we have fair weather. That’s a lot of extra food to carry or find along the way. A man could be useful on a long trek, but not a woman. A man can stand night watch. He can chop firewood. He can wade the mud to pull the trek-oxes through. A woman. Bah! On a wagon trek she’s good for one thing and one thing only. And not good at all when my partner and I would share her. No. I won’t do it. Take her away. I have to inspan and get on my way. Sunlight is a wasting.”

“Now see here, Clayworth. I’ll pay you triple. Two hundred and twenty-five shillings to take this problem off my hands and the load off my mind. What do you say?”

Jerrick Clayworth, grim and tight-lipped, forced himself to hold back lashing out again to the Afrikaner, Hannes Crouse. He considered the offer of two hundred and twenty-five shillings, more than eleven pounds, more than enough to pay for a replacement ox when he lost one, as he was sure to do somewhere, sometime on this trek. And if the woman died along the way, or went on her own way once they were a few days out of Johannesburg, then so much the better. But is she really alive? Jerrick lifted the woven-reed lid from the deep and sturdy woven grass basket once again for a confirming examination. The woman was dressed in man’s breeches and boots, with a shirt top that was male as well. She made no sound. He bent low to inspect her, noting no bleeding wounds, but more importantly no smell of death about her; an earthy odor but certainly not dead.

“How did she get in this condition? What’s the matter with her? Why is she unconscious and how long has she been this way?”

“She’s just knocked out for a while. She’ll come around.”

“What did you give her?”

“I got the potion from a sangoma. I don’t actually know what’s in it.”

“Then how do you know she’ll come out of it?”

“The old teef told me she would, and if she don’t, I’ll wring that witch’s scrawny black neck and take back the two goats I paid her.”

“Well she don’t look dead, but if she does come out she’s going to get really messy in short order when her body starts to function again. We’ll have to get her out of that basket. I’ll spread a bullock hide to lay her on so she don’t piss or crap all over my goods when she wakes up.”

“Danke, Clayworth. Here, I’ll help you with her.”

“Not so fast. I’ll take the shillings first; otherwise she stays in the basket and goes home with you instead of on the trail with me.”

Grumbling, Hannes counted out two hundred and twenty-five silver shillings, and in so doing, emptied the bag. Jerrick noted and realized Hannes knew all along how much he would have to pay and was prepared with just the right amount. Hannes cupped the coins, returned them to the pouch and handed it over to Jerrick. Together the two men spread the hide over the crates and baskets, and stretched the still inert figure on it.

“Does she have a name?’

“I always called her Gertie. Gerta, I suppose?”

“And her surname? Hell, man if she dies on me I have to be able to burn a name on the crossed sticks. I couldn’t leave her for the animals.”

“Verdoem, man. Don’t bother to dig the ground for her. As far as I know even she doesn’t know her father’s name or even who he was. She’s just Gertie and the hyenas won’t check her pedigree.”






CalliCae’s Fate…..

29 May

Another release from Author of the Week Lee-Anne Graff Vinson.

Callie's Fate by Lee-Ann Graff Vinson

When Callie takes the red-eye home to surprise her husband for their anniversary, she finds the surprise is on her. She watches as a blonde tart in six-inch heels teeters out from her home and toward a cherry-red Mustang, which is parked in her spot.

Enraged, Callie does the only thing she can do. She drives to her favorite coffee house, scrolls through divorce lawyers who claim to eat cheating husbands for breakfast, and cries. Her only consolation is Christian, a Marine, whom she befriended on a chat site almost a year earlier.

While waiting for her marriage to end, Callie agrees to finally meet Christian in person. She has always been a woman in control, but the mere touch of this man has her begging for more. Christian is only too happy to oblige, leaving Callie agreeing with the motto ‘The Few and The Proud’. She has never experienced a man who could make her see stars, but Christian does his duty, and does it well.

Unhappy circumstances bring them together. A week of sexual bliss makes it impossible for them to part, leaving them to wonder how they can, once again, test the hands of fate.


Callie parked her car across the street from her house. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but she didn’t feel them. She was numb. Angry. Done. She had to hand it to him. Donald’s taste in women had improved since the first time she’d caught him cheating. The blonde, in her six-inch, cherry-red heels, clicked merrily across the driveway to her car. The Mustang was noticeably the same shade of slut as her shoes and was parked contemptuously in Callie’s spot. She scowled as the tart shimmied herself into the car. Her mini skirt was wrinkled and tight. She probably didn’t even take it off.

Callie had just arrived home from a five-day pharmaceutical conference where she’d been working twelve-hour days promoting one of her company’s new drugs. Exhausted, she’d caught the red-eye to make it back on time. Today was their fourteenth wedding anniversary, and she wanted to surprise her husband with a day of wine tours and food samplings she’d booked online while she was away. This was the second time the surprise had been on her.

When he’d done it the first time, she couldn’t believe the man she’d entrusted her heart to would hurt her in such a deceitful manner. She’d married him because he was safe. He definitely was not the partying type. He never stayed out late with the boys, and he’d always come home right after work. He was, well . . . boring. He was the one man she’d thought she didn’t have to worry about. Although they didn’t share the same interests—she loved the outdoors, running and biking and he was happy in front of the television drinking a few beers—she loved him and he loved her. Or at least he told her he did.

Back then she’d had an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt, thinking his affair was somehow her fault. Her job took her away quite a bit and when she was home, she worked such long hours they rarely had time for a quickie, let alone what he would call “substantial” sex.

She stared at the car backing out of her driveway. She didn’t have those same feelings of guilt, heartache and complete devastation as before. Only anger and emptiness remained. After eighteen months of counseling and thousands down the drain, this was what they’d accomplished? Well, not again. No more lies. No more wasted money. This time she was done for good.

Her first instinct was to throw open the front door and wipe that smirk off his face with a baseball bat, screaming every obscenity she could think of. She wanted to cause him extreme pain. It’s our stupid anniversary!

As much as physically beating him appealed to her, she needed to hit him harder, in a way that made complete recovery impossible. No, violence wasn’t the answer. Her next move needed to be one that would hurt him as much as he’d killed their marriage. She needed professional help. It was time to consult with the people who knew him best––The Law Offices of Divorce-A-Cheating-Ass.

Callie started her car and gunned it down the street. She expertly cut off Donald’s newest ride, eliciting quite a resentful honk from her, which she quite happily returned with the full length of her middle finger. She sped down the street and away from her beloved home.

The Starbucks parking lot was almost empty as she maneuvered her shiny, silver Chrysler 200 into a lonely spot. She popped her trunk and got out. She always bloated on long flights and her black suede platform heels were beginning to pinch. She tugged at the ruffled skirt she typically wore on business trips, which was now cutting into her waist. She was about to grab her jeans and sneakers from her suitcase to change into, when she heard the vocal admiration of a passing, very well-built, fetching, young male cyclist. She decided against comfort and tossed the items back in. Damn right, I’m sexy.

At thirty-seven, Callie still had a great figure. She wasn’t statuesque, but her legs were muscular, giving the illusion of length. Her waist was narrow. So was her chest, but nothing a Victoria’s Secret push-up couldn’t cure—and she wore it well. Her blonde hair was long and straight, fanning out across her shoulders to mid-back. However, her eyes were what gave Callie her power. The large cobalt orbs could stop men at twenty paces. A flutter of the eyelashes followed by an intent gaze could get her anything she wanted. She used her power well; it had gained many large contracts for her company.

She pulled out her laptop bag and closed her trunk. It was going to take a lot of research to find the perfect attorney who would represent her in the courtroom. Donald wasn’t going to get away with it this time. The son-of-a-bitch!

She found a table and took out her laptop, then stood in line to order while she waited for it to boot up. Now, what type of coffee does a day like today require? When it was her turn to order, Callie spoke with no emotion. “May I please have an I-just-caught-my-loser-of-a-husband-cheating-with-a-whore-and-I’m-going-to-take-him-to-the-cleaners grande, skinny, extra-hot, caramel macchiato?”

The barista stared at her for a brief moment before replying “Of course, and how about we just go ahead and make that a venti at no extra charge?”

The wink she gave Callie was one of a woman familiar with her kind of day, and Callie knew she’d chosen her sanctuary well.

Coffee in hand, she sat down in front of her laptop and sighed. She shook her head as she searched through the myriad of divorce attorneys. How did she get here again? How did she not see this coming?

Tramp-happy Donald was currently between jobs, as he liked to tell anyone who cared to ask. A plumber by trade, they’d met when the pipe in her en suite bathroom burst one Sunday afternoon. She’d called the first company listed in the yellow pages and paid an arm and a leg for the repair, but thoroughly enjoyed the view as she waited for it to be fixed. Donald’s well-rounded, firm, plumber-butt definitely drew her away from her laptop, and she was thrilled when he’d asked for her number. However, his idea of a stellar evening included darts and drinks at his favorite pub, which was where he took her on their first date. And the next five. She’d always dreamed she would find a man who was kind, loving and, of course, fabulously sexy. Instead, she’d found Donald. He drew her in with winks and compliments. He held mystical powers when it came to bullshit, which he opened up like a clogged drain when he was with her. They used to talk a lot back then. She was attracted to his easy-going confidence. She was comfortable in his company and satisfied in his bed. Now, Callie realized he’d played her. She was merely his meal ticket with the option of sex.

Callie had never had a long-term, serious relationship before she met Donald. Her drive to climb the proverbial ladder had kept her from having time to socialize outside of work. Somehow, this man had wrenched his way into her heart. She’d allowed him into her life, her home . . . and now she was paying for him to plumb someone else’s pipes.

“Idiot,” she said.







7 May

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Gary Starta.

Myopic by Gary Starta

When aliens contact suspense author Wilfred Diamond demanding he spread a message to his fellow humans to go green – or else-he confides in his new love interest, EPA scientist Sonja Hoffs. Learning a technology is available which would cure the earth’s pollution woes, Diamond urges Hoffs to help him bring it to the light of day. But there are many who want the technology to remain in the dark and these people are just as dangerous as any alien invader. Knowing the risks, Hoffs lets her heart-and not her brain-guide her to take the plunge into not only a new romance but the perilous waters of political conspiracy.


“Mr. Diamond, we know you’ve seen us. In fact, you are the only human on this planet able to do so. We have contacted you today to petition the human species for change. Please heed our directive, because if you don’t, every living organism on the planet will die a horrible death.”
     Wilfred Morgan Diamond, America’s most popular suspense novelist, immediately removed his glasses. He feverishly polished his lenses using the greasy cloth napkin that had enjoyed a home on his coffee table for the past two weeks.
     The words continued to scroll across his plasma television screen, plain as day. He should have been seated at a command console, riding aboard some galaxy-class starship. Instead, he slumped upon a lumpy couch riddled with salsa and ketchup stains.
     “Time is of the essence, Mr. Diamond. We currently work to rid your atmosphere of the toxic filth you have unleashed upon it. However, we cannot keep pace. Unless your race establishes an efficient ecosystem within the next five Earth years, an extraterrestrial species will visit your planet to devour all vegetation on your planet, resulting in the complete extinction of every living organism.”
     Wilfred attempted to compose himself for a response, his throat parched with anxiety. He swallowed the last sips of a tepid diet soft drink from the bottle that had been sitting on his coffee table for days on end. He whispered–in fear a neighbor might hear him, hoping this interaction was simply a hallucination or dream.
     He hoped the same for the visions that first appeared three weeks ago. Since then, tiny neon green specks briefly fluttered in front of his eyes every time he put on his latest prescription eyewear. Diamond desperately wanted to believe the sparkling specks of neon were a result of degenerative myopia, a condition where images come into focus in front of the eye. It was the most logical deduction.
     Every year Wilfred had undergone an eye exam his vision had worsened. The most recent test confirmed his myopia once again. He wasn’t surprised. Working fifteen hours a day writing manuscripts had taken a toll on the old eyeballs. But had all this writing also taken a toll on his sanity? Could whispering at a television screen confirm the fears nipping at the deep recesses of his troubled mind? Was he clinically insane?
     Or had he made contact with a new species capable of making dire predictions for either the continuation–or elimination–of the human race? In any event, he managed to utter two words to the beings invading his home entertainment center. He hoped he kept his voice down. He sure as hell didn’t need nosy Mrs. Willis eavesdropping on his last moment of sanity. He could feel her presence without gazing outside. Mrs. Willis spent the better part of her days perched on her balcony, fifteen meters across from Wilfred’s townhouse. She waited like a crow on a telephone wire. Empty air and the empty courtyard below formed the only buffer zone. Thanks to a pair of sliding glass doors, Mrs. Willis enjoyed a perfect view of Wilfred’s living room from her high-rise vantage point.
     The microscopic organisms attempted to answer Wilfred’s question––Why me? They utilized the broadband capability of Wilfred’s digital cable system, allowing two-way real time dialog. Wilfred cursed the day he upgraded from analog.
     He rushed to draw the curtains on pesky Mrs. Willis. He never appreciated her interest in his celebrity. She felt more like a stalker than a fan. Move on to somebody else, you whack job. Wilfred sarcastically mouthed I love you at Willis before closing the curtain on her show.
     He returned his attention to the TV screen. The scrolling began again. Words raced across the screen in vibrant blue.
     “Your brain operates differently. You have a unique condition which allows you to see us. When your species becomes telepathic, you will be able to hear us without the trappings of technology. But we can’t wait for that someday. A deadline is at hand.
     “That is why we chose you, Wilfred Diamond. Your thought patterns radically differ from the beings on the planet you call scientists. While we believe your scientists will one day discover us, their rational minds will condemn them to over-think the reason for our existence. We need a more emotional, reactive mind like yours so you will spread our message proactively. Besides, you have seen us with your own eyes.”
     “You mean the scientists haven’t discovered all of Earth’s species yet?”
Wilfred’s preoccupation with fiction was painfully obvious. If he had kept up with the news, Wilfred would have known scientists had recently discovered a transparent jellyfish-like creature known as salps. The scrolling resumed. It was as if Wilfred had a wealth of knowledge available only for the asking. The beings explained salps are tiny thumb-sized creatures that keep tons of carbon from reentering the atmosphere, thus reducing the harmful effects of greenhouse gases.
     “Mr. Diamond, the salps and organisms like us can only do so much to restore the planet’s damaged atmosphere. You must do your part. Find a way to stop the humans from dumping harmful emissions into the air. Convince them the threat is real, because if we fail to complete our task, a species known as the Purifiers will wreak havoc on your rainforests until they have eliminated all life on Earth.”
     “Why would they do that? Why won’t these Purifiers help us?”
     “They are helping––in their own way. The Purifiers will eliminate any chance your species has of contaminating other worlds with your disease and pollution.”
     “How could we spread this?”
     “You will soon find a way to colonize. Bases are under construction on the moon. The Purifiers are gatekeepers, programmed to protect the future, and they won’t let humans travel the galaxy just to escape their dirty world. Unlike the Purifiers, we are native to this planet. We awoke from a dormant state as a result of your pollution. Our only purpose is to cleanse the ecosystem. If we don’t succeed, our species–along with you and everyone else on your planet––will suffer death at the hands of the Purifiers.”
     Wilfred stumbled over empty pizza cartons and old newspapers to get a better look at his TV. “I don’t even know your name. How can I trust you?”
     “If an introduction encourages trust, then think of us as environmental restoration organisms.”
     “I’ll never remember that. How about I just call you EROs for short?”
     “You may use this acronym if you like. But if you fail in your quest, names won’t matter anymore. The Purifiers will not stop once they begin their feeding. We suggest you get to work. There are only 1,800 days remaining.”





Brambles and Thorns..

28 Nov

Another GSP release from Author of the Week: Lisa Farrell.

Brambles and Thorns by Lisa Farrell

Moira’s mother is long gone and her father comes and goes, but she can look after herself. So when Riana appears, trying to get involved in her life, Moira resists. She doesn’t want a fairy godmother; she wants to make her own choices.

Adam doesn’t know who he is. He has grown up as the plaything of some very sinister fairies, and only the occasional kindness of the three sisters has kept him alive.

Moira and Adam must both get their destinies back on track, but Riana has been doing more than giving gifts and setting people up. And even the sisters cannot claim innocence.


Moira cut across the field, her bike rattling beneath her. She went through a particularly large cow-pat and knew her jeans had been splattered. Anne’s mum would probably insist she change into a pair of Anne’s clean, expensive jeans. They would be too short and would show her ankles, which she’d not shaved since last week. That woman’s kindness always led to humiliation.

The sky was thick with clouds and a feather-light mist was rising, making everything dim and grey. By the time she came home she would need her lights, but the batteries were running low. Maybe she would leave them off and speed silently through the darkness, a creature of the night. Of course, if she ended up in the river, then it would be her fault.

She had not seen a soul since she had reached the river path, and usually it was busy. Maybe the cold was keeping people at home, or in their cars. Moira sniffed hard; the cold made her nose run. She didn’t want to slow down to dig a tissue from her pocket. It wasn’t much farther to the bridge, and the light—not that she was scared of the half-dark.

Someone was standing on the bridge, right in the middle, right in her way. Moira flicked at her bell a couple of times as she approached, but the figure just stood there, a dark form under the light. Moira was forced to stop, clenching her brakes, and found herself face to face with a woman who looked more than a little crazy. She had a huge hooded black shawl pulled around her, over a humpback. Her face and hair were white, shining out from the darkness under her hood. Her eyes doing the rabbit in headlights stare.

“Excuse me,” Moira said, dismounting.

The woman didn’t move so Moira pushed past her, and the woman let out a yelp of surprise. Moira fought the urge to apologise, or look back. She hopped back onto her bike and got away as fast as she could.


“Hey, Morra,” Anne’s mum said. “Come on in!”

If the jeans were noticed, they weren’t mentioned. Moira followed her into the house, gritting her teeth and politely refusing the many offers of food. She used to think Mrs. Harris pushed food on her because she thought she wasn’t fed properly at home. She had soon realised it was because Anne was too fussy to eat any of her cooking, so she had no other child to give it to.

“Is Anne upstairs, Mrs. Harris?”

“Call me Sally, please, Morra,” the woman said, her head bobbing up and down like a mother hen’s as she spoke. “Yes, she’s upstairs, but be sure to knock, I think Darren’s still with her.”

“Darren Marsters?”


Mrs. Harris’s eyes gleamed. He had obviously charmed her. She obviously didn’t know about his reputation.

“Maybe I’d better come another time.”

“Oh no, dear, she’s expecting you. Go on up.”

Moira suppressed a shudder. If Anne was expecting her she was probably in for a scene. Maybe she should stall a bit longer, let Darren call Anne’s bluff. How long could it take to undress, given how little Anne ever wore?

Moira climbed the stairs slowly, her socked feet treading quietly on the faded flowery carpet, her hand gripping the polished brass handrail. At the top she paused, listening for clues. She heard Anne’s patently cute giggle, but that didn’t tell her anything.

She stood in front of the door and examined the pretty, painted sign. Welcome to Annabelle’s Room had been done in swirly blue letters, tiny flowers curling from them. The door was white and plain, but there were sticky marks where Anne had taped posters to it in the past.

Moira held the doorknob in her palm. The brass was cold. She wondered how many hands had held it in the past. Had it been here before the Harrises moved in? Or had Mrs. Harris insisted on changing everything, so it was all clean and new?

She opened the door without knocking and found Anne and Darren on the bed, fumbling at each other, still mostly dressed. Darren was topless and he seemed genuinely embarrassed, tumbling from the bed and retrieving his shirt from the floor. Anne just giggled.

“Your dad didn’t let you fit that lock yet?” Moira asked, forcing a smile.

“Not until I’m sixteen,” Anne said, lying back against the pillows. Moira could see a red silk bra through her open blouse. She wasn’t known for wearing blouses, but buttons slowed boys down.


When Darren had gone they laughed about him, and Anne told her all the secrets he’d spilled. There was nothing too incriminating, but Anne loved gossip in all its forms and was enjoying herself so much that she made herself breathless with talking, her cheeks turning a delicate shade of pink.

Moira pretended to listen, until Anne paused long enough for Moira to bring up her idea. She hadn’t come just to talk about Darren.

“I found this,” Moira said, producing a crumpled page from her pocket. “I thought it might be fun to have a go.”
Anne was frowning as she took the page, which Moira had ripped from a magazine, but her brow smoothed as her eyes skimmed the words. She smiled, and her eyes lifted from the page and met Moira’s.

“Unlock the secrets of your destiny with candle magic,” Anne said. “A bit melodramatic isn’t it? And they’ve spelt magic wrong.”

“Since when do you know how to spell?” Moira teased, plucking the page from Anne’s hand. “You only do well in English because Mister Rangle fancies you.”

“Ew!” Anne shrieked, jumping to her feet and dancing about as though the thought of Mister Rangle was a bug to be shaken off.

“Maybe his initials will appear in the water, and I’ll know you like him too!” Moira said, laughing. Anne grabbed a pillow from the bed and began hitting her round the head with it. Moira collapsed, but pulled Anne down too. They ended up in a giggling heap on the floor.

“Whose initials would you like to see?” Anne asked her.

Moira pushed her off.

“Come on,” Moira said, “I can’t stay long. Let’s do this. Please?”


Moira lifted the candle slowly over the bowl. She knew that candlelight was supposed to be flattering, but she still felt self-conscious with Anne watching her. She tipped the candle and let three large drops of wax drip into the water. The wax solidified at once, and she waited for the pieces to stop spinning so she could interpret the shapes they made.

Then it would be Anne’s turn, and they would both know who Anne was destined to be with. Or so the magazine claimed. Moira took a breath to say the words, but before she spoke, something changed. The light of the candle dazzled her, the darkness beyond it made her feel suddenly alone. She was aware of Anne talking, but the girl sounded far away. Moira’s ears seemed full of water, the world was receding and all she could see were the wax drops, still spinning round and round. Candlelight flickered on the rippling water, streaking it red. The red faded to pink and Moira saw ribbons fluttering. There was a dark shadow in the middle of everything, the shape of a person, surrounded by tiny lights.

“You shall have him,” whispered a voice by her ear. “He shall be your handsome prince.”

Moira screamed and the light came on. Anne was standing with her hand on the switch, staring at her like she was on fire.





Holly and Ivy…

27 Nov

A GSP holiday release from Author of the Week: Lisa Farrell.

Holly and Ivy by Lisa Farrell

Ivy doesn’t get excited about Christmas, but her mum won’t let her spend the holiday alone and miss out on the magic. No matter that her mum has technically departed the mortal world… Witches have their ways.


Ivy slammed the door and let out a stream of curses that would have made her old mother proud. Her commute was bad enough without the Christmas shoppers clogging up the tube. She kicked her shoes off and stomped into the kitchen to find something to dull the memory of her day. Half a glass worth of white was still in the fridge, but it just left her feeling cold. Fergus padded into the kitchen and sat between her and the door.

“All right, I’ll feed you,” she said. “No need to give me that look.”

Fergus’ tail twitched as he watched her pour dry food into his bowl. He seemed to be judging her. Mum had always spoilt him, fed him carefully cooked chicken and fish. Now he had to make do with brown flaky lumps that smelt faintly of mouldy cheese.

“Tell you what, I’ll shop tomorrow,” she said, “get you some posh cat food, stuff they advertise on TV.”

Fergus ignored her and wandered off towards the bedroom. He had heard such promises before. Ivy shivered, but she could tell from Fergus’ behaviour that she was alone in the flat. She would have a hot shower; that might cheer her up. It was the weekend now. Hooray.

The shower wasn’t enough to warm her. She turned the water up as hot as it would go and scrubbed herself briskly. She felt like she was turning into some sort of ice queen, she’d been alone so long. She didn’t have any close friends in London, and as for men . . .

Ivy wrapped a towel around herself and scowled at the wet footprints leading to her bedroom. She’d know the shape of those gnarled toes anywhere.

“Not fair, Mum,” she muttered, following the prints. “I was naked in there, funnily enough.”

There was a sprig of holly on her bed, and Fergus was purring contentedly on her pillow.

“What do you want?” Ivy asked, picking up the holly to examine it. Three juicy red berries shone in the light. “You think I should decorate? Christmas doesn’t cheer me, so if you’re trying to make me feel better, just let it drop.”

Something just out of her line of vision fell from the bookcase to her left and hit the floor with a thump. Ivy jumped despite herself, startling Fergus. He lost his usual composure, leaping from the bed and streaking from the room.

Ivy’s lips were clamped shut as she retrieved the book from the floor. She was determined not to speak ill to the dead. “Ha ha,” she muttered, replacing her mother’s old copy of A Christmas Carol on the shelf. “I get it, I’m Scrooge. Now I’m going to bed, so leave me alone.” She donned her nightdress a little self-consciously and climbed into bed. As she closed her eyes she thought she saw the curtains flutter, though the window was firmly closed.

“‘Night, mum,” she whispered.

It wasn’t until she was buying cat food the next morning that the thought occurred to her. Perhaps her mother didn’t want the flat decorated. Maybe she was nudging Ivy to remember her. This had always been her mother’s favourite time of year. Her only daughter could surely take the time to pay her respects.

“All right, mum,” she said, though she was alone. “I’ll come see you today.”

She hurried home to feed the cat, and then set off at once. Every minute that passed seemed to make her little mission seem more urgent, until she was fighting the urge to speed on the icy roads. She didn’t drive often these days, but being on the familiar roads seemed to erase the last few months of her life and she almost forgot her destination was the graveyard, not the old house.

She parked behind the church and stepped out of the car to find herself knee-deep in frosty nettles. Thankful for her jeans, Ivy quick-marched back up the road. She knew where the holly grew round here, and though there probably wouldn’t be any berries left now she could take some for her mum. It was the thought that counted.

The world felt bigger here, where fields stretched away on each side and the sky was wide. So different from her new home. The air smelt so clear, and tasted like ice water at the back of her throat. She reached the line of trees and slowed her pace, looking for the bush they’d walked to together, years ago.

Berries shone. She couldn’t believe it; the bush was full of them.

“Looks untouched, doesn’t it?”

She started, her hand flying to her chest of its own accord. A man was standing between the trees, a tall, dark, handsome stranger. If her mum had somehow set this up, she might have just got it right for once.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, quickly stuffing her hands into her pockets. She didn’t want to come across like a Jane Austen heroine. “I didn’t see you there.”

The man stepped out of the trees. Ivy took in his deep brown eyes, square chin and broad, muscular shoulders. For a moment the silence was awkward.

“Picking holly?” he asked, pulling a small pair if shears from his pocket. “Me too.”

“Well there’s plenty for two here,” she said, laughing unnecessarily. “I don’t need much anyway, and I’ll be out of your way.”

She hadn’t thought to bring any shears. She pulled at a small sprig, but it wouldn’t break. She felt her face growing hot and red.

“Here.” The man leant past her and snipped the sprig free. She gasped as his hand brushed hers, and a sharp tingle passed up her arm.