What Have You Seen?

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Ancient Olive Tree, Garden of Gethsemane



Silent witness of passing time –

Tell us what you’ve seen.

Whose feet have trod above your roots –

Or shaded under your boughs green.


Tell of Legions, Crusaders, Arab Merchants –

Passing to and fro –

Tell us of the One who at night prayed there –

A long time ago.






2019 Photography Challenge: A Long time Ago

The Landsman

Beach, Changing Room, Sea, Dare, Companions, Nostalgic

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay 

William Browne was a Northamptonshire, the son of a prominent grocer.  His father arranged a good education for him at the Oundle School where he excelled in mathematics and languages.  His father had William’s whole life planned out for him, and he was slated to enter a career in banking at the end of his education.  Maybe even ‘the City,” awaited him.


Though good with numbers, William despised them however.  He longed for a life of adventure.  Westward Ho! and Moby Dick intrigued him, he knew in his heart that his life should be one linked to the sea.  As a Midlands boy, however, he knew nothing more of it than what he had read in books.


One evening when he was sixteen, and on the eve of his beginning his apprenticeship at the banking house, he quietly packed a few belongs and headed for King’s Lynn.   He travelled the dark road to Peterborough and arranged a room with some of his meagre funds in order the sleep till late afternoon.   He again travelled through the night, and repeated the practice again in Wisbech.  On the third morning he arrived on the outskirts of Lynn and made his way to the docks.


He was tired and footsore but approached the first ship he say at the docks.


“Do you have need of a hand?” he inquired.


The master looked him up and down, taking in his relatively expensive attire.  “Have you ever been to sea?” the man asked.


“No, but I am eager,” William replied.


“I have no place for a landsman on the Raven,” the master said.  “Try the Sea Horse.”


William made his way down the docks to the small two-masted vessel.


“Do you need any hands?” he called up to the men on deck.


A leather-faced man came down the gangway to join him.


“Have you any experience?” the captain asked.


“No, but I learn fast, and I’m strong.”


“What’s your name, Lad?” the mariner asked.


“Will Br – Black,” the young would be banker replied.


The captain nodded knowingly and then said, “Welcome to the Sea Horse.”


The vessel set sail that same afternoon for Memel on the Baltic Coast with a cargo of wool.


Landsman Black did indeed learn quickly, though his duties were largely swabbing decks, and fetching sails, ropes, and other items for others.


The passage was swift, as the sea conditions were adventitious that June in 1871.


On their arrival in Memel the load of wool was quickly put ashore, and replaced with several chests of amber, as well as a half hold’s worth of Baltic timber.


It was the last day of the month when the Sea Horse left her moorings homeward bound.


The sea was a little choppy, but didn’t seem to give the experienced sailors the slightest worry.  Will however did not like the sensation or the feeling of sick it was giving him.


“Don’t worry, Lad,” the captain said to him as he passed him.  “We are making a straight course to Malmö to complete our load.  You will be at anchor soon enough.”


The course did indeed take them directly towards Bornholm, and avoided the longer route along the coast.  But the weather continued to become less favourable through the day.  Many of the crew looked confused at the sky from time to time, as the weather seemed to come from nowhere.   The contrary winds also slowed the vessel’s progress.


Just before dusk, the sky and sea let loose their full fury.  The ship almost seemed to being pushed backwards towards the port from which it had sailed.  Waves broke over the bow, and just after dark the foremast snapped taking two seamen to their deaths.


Another man clung to the railings, and will ran to try to pull him back on board.  Just as he grabbed the man’s wrists, another piece of the shattered mast gave way and struck Will on the back of the head.


He was knocked unconscious and entered into a kind of a dream-world.  The dream was vivid, and despite the storm raging around his stricken body, he was at total piece.


In his dream, he was in a sort of a ballroom.  The walls were a shimmering shades of blues and greens.  Waltz music seemed to flow over him, though he could not see any musicians, nor were there any dancers on the floor.  Then a beautiful woman approached him.  Her complexion was the shade of workman’s tea, and her long hair sable and in tightly coiled curls.  She was dressed in a fabulous dress of red silk adorned with pearls.   Her thick, full lips gave him a welcoming smile as she gave him a curtsy.  What stuck him most about his exotic beauty, however, was here aqua-marine eyes.


He bowed in response to her curtsy.  She again smiled and reached out to take his hand.  He placed his other hand onto the small of her back and the two began to dance.  The danced for what seemed to be hours, all the while he stayed transfixed on those exquisite eyes.  The music continued, without break, and the shimmering walls made him feel energised as if by magic.


Suddenly he began to feel fatigued, however.  The raven haired woman gave him another curtsy, and Will suddenly felt the entire world go dark.


Will awoke lying in the sand, with a gentle surf breaking upon the beach.  Near him was a wheeled changing salon bearing the word – ‘Umkleide.’  His head ached and he had no idea where he was.  Trying to orient himself he glanced out to sea.  There for just an instant he thought he caught a glimpse of the aqua-marine eyed maiden peering above the waves.  He blinked, and looked again just to see a set of large red-silken flukes disappearing into the sea.


He forced himself to his feet, and stared out to sea for several minutes, but saw no more than waves and sea birds.  He reached back rubbing the walnut sized whelp behind his head, then turned inland and catching sight of a milestone, headed for “Danzig 3 km.”




This piece began its life as an attempt to meet the 50 Word Thursday challenge.  It took a life of its own however, and is well in excess of the 250 words.  I hope that it will be a pleasurable read however.



Hold the Course

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

At thirteen I was taller than many of my classmates and very much stronger.   I was a shot putter on the track and field team, and was good at sport in general.  Despite my size and strength, I was often bullied, precisely because of those characteristics.  I however held the conviction instilled in me by my mother that it would be wrong for me the harm a smaller child. Therefore, I endured the bullying.

At thirteen, I had teachers who saw me as clever, and some diligently tried to convince me of my non-physical abilities.  But I, whether because of the bullying, or whether I had something to prove to myself, stayed fixedly focused on athletics.

High school was an uncomfortable turning point.  By fifteen I had stopped growing and settled in at five foot – seven.  I still competed in the shot put, but each year my ranking fell, as others first caught up to me in size and then surpassed it.  My response was to practice more, spending long hours with the weights and in the shot put ring.  I remained strong, and especially strong for my size.  My academics, however, were not a priority.  Yes I got mostly A-s, but not consistently so.  My senior year, I even took only the classes I needed to graduate.

Alas, I am no athlete.  I got a job, married, and went to community college, where I got A-s yet again.  Then I joined the forces, where academically I did well even being noted on three occasions as “honor man”  in military schools.

I left the forces, and went to uni, and then into ministry.  I eventually even did graduate study at the University of Cambridge.  I am still no athlete, but I am, as my teachers at age thirteen tried to show me – clever.

So what advice should I give a thirteen year old me?  Give up the sport, you will end up too small?  Hit the books, your future lies there?

No!  The message to the thirteen year old me is:  “Hold the Course.  The path you are on is the one that will make you – you!”


Haunted Wordsmith Nonfiction Prompt: What is something you would tell your 13-year-old self?

The Party

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

The Party


“We will be back on Sunday night,” Mom said, “You boys behave yourselves – and no parties.  Do you understand me?”


“Yes Ma’am,” David and Gregg replied and their parents picked up their bags.


“We will be at the Excelsior. The number is on the fridge,” Dad said over his shoulder as he and his wife made their way to the car.


“PAR-TEE,” Gregg said excitedly as he watched the Volvo disappear down the street.


“Okay, but we need to make some rules.  This can’t be an ‘open house’,” David said.


“Sure, like what?” Gregg asked.


“You invite five friends, and I will do the same.  No one else can come in unless they bring their own beer, or – or if it’s a hot girl,” David suggested.


“Oh, yes!” his seventeen-year-old brother replied.


By eight Saturday evening, Stuart and Tom, their best friends had arrived, as did about seven other lads, plus five girls between sixteen and nineteen.


The music was blasting but things were controlled.


At nine a couple of guys approaching twenty arrived.  The boys didn’t know them but they were carrying a case of Carlsberg Pilsner.  


“Is this where the party’s at?” the one who introduced himself as Brian asked.


“Yep,” Gregg said looking at the incoming beer.


Even at ten o’clock things were under control.  Then at five minutes past two girls arrived.  They seemed to be perhaps eighteen, but both carried themselves with an assured bearing which gave them an air of sophistication well beyond their years.


“I’m Toni,” the first said with a voice which dripped sex-appeal.


“And I’m Tori,” the other said with a wink, “We’re twins.”


David looked at the long bronzed legs which led up to Toni’s very short shorts, and then at the amply filled blue-green halter top. “Welcome,” he muttered.


Tori gave another wink to Gregg, and then took his hand.  “Aren’t you going to show me in?”


Gregg gulped, and then said, “This way.” As he took the first step into the house, she placed his hand onto her bottom which was barely covered by a revealing green and blue dress. “Just lead the way,” she said with yet another wink.


The brothers led the twins into the lounge and took the centre seats of the sofa, with Tori and Toni seated on either side.


How could such devastatingly beautiful women be interested in us?  David thought.


“Don’t be silly,” Toni said as if she had read his mind and then pulled him closer and rejoined their kiss.


“We have come here just for you,” Tori purred.  “It is like destiny.”


Time seemed to have stood still and the brothers lost all perception of what was happening around them.


They didn’t see when Brian and his mate, Andy left at five minutes to twelve.  Nor did they see the massive green and blue fireball that swept through the residence at the stroke of midnight, consuming all of their other guests.


The brothers were entranced by the twins, and lost almost all memory of  what followed.


It was six-thirty in the evening when the brothers awoke to the sound of their parents’ return.  All around them was total destruction.  Furniture was scorched, piles of ash were heaped in various places, one of them with a dental retainer on top of it, and many with beer cans or bottles lying next to them.


The brothers looked at the scene of desolation with utter terror and disbelief.


There was no sign of the twins, however, except for a blue green halter that David had tightly clutched in his hand.  Gregg had a vague memory of Tori giving him a kiss on the cheek and saying, “That was delicious, but I need to go now,”  and Toni saying, “It was exactly what we needed.”  He couldn’t quite remember how or when the pair had left, however.


“What happened here?” their father asked in a trembling voice.


Haunted Wordsmith Prompts

Prompt A (emotional challenge): fright

Prompt B (sentence starter): “What happened here?”

Prompt C (photo): Above


A Town on the Cam and its Centre of Learning

Image result for cambridge university free images

image: public domain

The Romans had built a fort and a bridge at the point of the great bend of the Cam.  The settlement grew and in Saxon times it became market centre.

In the 12th Century there was an incident in distant Oxford which would change the fortunes of the settlement forever.   Two scholars were executed over the death of a woman by town officials without the usual referral to ecclesiastical authorities.  Teaching was suspended at the Thames-based centre, and scholars departed for the continent, and others to the small bridge settlement which was under the authority of the Bishop of Ely.

From 1209 scholars began to study on the banks of the “Granta” and Henry III granted the new learning centre a charter in 1231.  The Bishop of Ely, Hugh Balsham indirectly established one of the centre’s key features, the college system, when he founded Peterhouse in 1284.

Since then, kings, nobles, and other important benefactors have endowed more “houses” and the now University of Cambridge came to have thirty-one colleges and several associated centres.  My own college is a “newer” one being established in 1768.

The university has several sites and facilities including the Old School, many of them along “the Backs” of the River Cam; the Addenbrookes Hospital campus, and the Fitzwilliam Museum among them.

This centre of learning has produced the likes of Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Christopher Marlowe.  There are also numerous prime ministers, and bishops among its alumni, as well as 118 Nobel Laureates.  The University’s libraries have over 15 million, and the grounds of the centre hold world class architectural achievements.

Hinc lucem et pocula sacra.



Haunted Wordsmith Non-fiction Prompt

The Woman in Number 13

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay


“Is that the mail?” Barbara called through from the kitchen.

Don leaned over the envelope that had come through the slot in the door.

“I don’t think so,” he replied as he looked down on the elegantly scribed address on the envelope.  It was certainly his name and address, but there was no stamp.  Don opened the front door and glanced up and down the street, but there was no sign of who might have dropped it through the mail slot.

Don was opening the envelope as Barb came from the kitchen, drying her hands on a dish towel.

“Who was that?” she asked.

“Nobody,” he replied.

Inside the envelope was what to be a professionally drawn illustration of Barbara washing the dishes.  In the picture, she was dressed in the exact same jeans and T-shirt she was presently wearing.

“That is so weird,” Barbara said a little shaken.  “Who’s it from?”

Don turned the envelope over. “There’s no return address,” he said.

The strange occurrence puzzled them for a few more days, but soon became an insignificant memory.

Then a second envelope arrived, again addressed to Don.  In it was a drawing of Barbara comparing ingredient lists on packages at the local supermarket.

About a half an hour later Barbara returned from shopping.

“Don, you know that microwave rice you like?  You can get Waitrose’s own brand for a third less, and the ingredients are identical,” she said from the kitchen as she put the bags down on the counter.

“Barb, come her for a minute,” he called.

He then held the portrait up to show her.  “I think you have a stalker.”

The envelope again gave no clue to its origins.

Twenty-four hours later another envelope arrived.  Don ripped it open to show a sketch of Barbara lying in bed, with a thermometer between her lips and a washcloth across her forehead.

What the f -, Don began in his own mind, when the door opened and Barbara entered, her brow and face beaded with perspiration.  She was lethargic, and held herself up by the door frame.

“Don, Honey, I don’t feel very good,” she said before swooning a bit.  Don escorted her to the bedroom, and helped her undress.

“Fetch me a night dress, please,” she mumbled. “There’s one on a hanger behind the door.”

Don swung the door enough to grab the garment, only to see that it was the very one from the latest drawing.

The doctor examined her and determined that it was a mild bought of the flu.  She gave her an injection, and said it should the worst of it should pass in a couple of days.

Don sat by the bedside and looked at the drawing, the scene was almost identical.  This can’t be real, he thought.  This picture arrived before she did. 

Then he noticed it.  Unlike the previous two envelopes this one was stationery from The Carlton Condominiums.

Two days later Barbara’s fever broke and Don showed her the latest drawing.

“This is getting scary,” she said.

Don then showed her the envelope.  “Maybe we should go check it out,” he said.

Barbara agreed, and the next day they headed to the apartment building.

As they arrived they encountered a resident just coming out of the revolving doors of the building’s lobby.

“Excuse me,” Don said to the woman.

“Yes Dear, is there something I can help you with?” the woman of about seventy said.

“We received an envelope with this address on it,” Barbara said, holding up the back of the envelope to show her.

“Oh, we haven’t had that stationery here since the Millennium,” she said.  “That’s very odd.”

“This drawing was in it,” Barbara said handing the illustration to the woman.

“It’s a very good likeness,” the woman said. “It looks like Louise’s work.”

“Louise?” the couple said almost simultaneously.

“Yes Dear.  Number 13,” she replied.  She then excused herself and started on her way, before turning and calling back, “She doesn’t get out much, you know.  Tootles.”

The couple entered the lobby and looked at the silver metal plaque on the wall.

“Eight to Thirteen are to the right,” Don said.

They turned down the right hand corridor and the entire atmosphere seemed to change.  The hallway was painted in a slate grey tone, and Barbara felt the walls almost closed in on her.

Numbers 8, 10, and 12 were on their left, and 9 and 11 were to their right.  Number 13 stood at the end of the hallway.

“I didn’t think places like this had 13s” Don said. “Unlucky or something.”

“Or Thirteenth Floors,” she agreed.

Don was just about to knock the door when it suddenly opened.

“Hello, Don – Barbara,” a woman in her early sixties said.  “I have been expecting you.”

Barbara stood with her mouth hanging open, and almost bolted, but Don intervened.

“How do you know us?  And how could you possibly know we were coming,” he said trying to control his anger.

“Come in, please and I will explain,” Louise said.

It was only as she fully opened the door for them to enter, that it became apparent that she was blind.

“Please, please do come in,” she invited.

It became obvious she was an artist.  Her flat had numerous pencil sketches on the walls, and an easel, with a nearly completed oil painting on it, was positioned under the window.  The variety and styles of the works were hard to categorize, as they seemed to encapsulate every genre and medium.

“Did you do all these?” Barbara asked.

“Yes, yes, over the years,” Louise responded.

“You are really talented,” Barbara complemented. “May I ask how long you have been blind?  It must have really been rough not being able to draw any more.”

Louise gave a friendly chuckle.  “I have been blind all my life,” Louise responded.  She then reached out a hand and removed a dust sheet from off a sculpture.  It was a perfect likeness of herself, but at about thirty years younger.  It, however, had empty eye sockets, leaving an eerie melancholy to the piece.

“It is a self-portrait, as you can see.  I turned to art, rather than bemoan my fate,” she added.

Don looked at the hollow sockets in the statue, and it gave him a chill.

“That’s amazing,” Barbara said.  “But how did you learn?”

“It wasn’t easy at first,” Louise said.  “I tried to have lessons, but no one really wanted to try to teach me.  So I just tried different things, and everyone was astonished by the outcome.  It’s like an instinct.  It’s what I think has brought you here today.”

“How so?” Don challenged.

“I have images in my mind.  Often they are places, people, or events, that I don’t know.  But they are vivid.  Sometimes, I can even sense the names and addresses or my ‘subjects,’ but I don’t always share them unless I feel the person really needs to see them,” Louise explained.

“So what was so important about Barbara’s pictures?” Don asked suspiciously.

“Oh, Barbara’s drawings weren’t important,” Louise said.  Though I am glad she is over that awful illness.”

“Then why send them?” Barbara asked.

“So you would come visit, Barbara,” Louise responded.

“Why?” Barbara questioned feeling a sense of uneasiness.

“So you could see the painting,” she replied, giving a nod towards the canvas under the window.

There was the perfect likeness of Don in the process of making love to the unmistakable image of Janet, their next door neighbour.

“Barbara, please come back,” Don called out after her as his voice was muffled by the ‘whoosh’ of the revolving door as she exited.



Haunted Wordsmith Fiction Prompt – May 28

Prompt A (character challenge): artist

Prompt B (sentence starter): “Teach me.”

Haunted Wordsmith Fiction Prompt – May 27

Prompt A (genre challenge): paranormal horror

Prompt B (sentence starter): “There’s no return address.”

Prompt C (photo):


Wordle #135

1. Eye Socket
2. Atmosphere
3. Sculpture
4. Bemoan
5. Whoosh
6. 24 hours
7. Glance
8. Lethargic
9. Instinct
10. Categorize
11. Draw
12. Tootle

The Listening Post

Tree, At Night, Silhouette

image: Pixabay


It was a cloudless, but dark night, and “Alabama,” and “Ski” were dug-in near a series of fallen tree trunks. Com-wire had been strung at various distances in front of the listening post and empty c-ration cans filled with pebbles were placed on the wires.

Shortly before midnight there was a rattling at about eighty meters out.

“Animal?” Alabama whispered.

“Maybe,” Ski replied.

Then there were two additional sounds of cans being jostled.

“Recan LP1 to Recan Ranger. Over,” Ski whispered over the field radio.

“This is Recan Ranger,” came the reply from Staff Sergeant Ortega over the earpiece.

“We have a movement to out one o’clock. Can we get some light? Over.”

Two flares shot up from behind the listening post and burst out illuminating the forest.

“This is Recan LP1, we have a platoon sized unit to our forward, we can see one crew served weapon. Over.”

As he spoke, the advancing intruders shifted direction directly towards the LP.

“We have them at fifty meters coming right at us,” Ski warned over the radio.

“Get out of there, son,” the Captain’s voice crackled over the earpiece.

The two started to crawl away along their prepared escape path, but the enemy was approaching too quickly.

“On three, leg it,” Corporal Badowski instructed. “One, two, three.”

Both Marines broke into a full out run towards the perimeter.

They were quickly surrounded by the whizzing of passing rounds.

Suddenly Lance Corporal “Alabama” Taylor felt the burning sensation of a round piercing his left thigh, the force of which took him off his feet.

“Shit, I’m hit,” Taylor called out.

“Keep going,” he urged Badowski, who stopped and leaned over him trying to lift him by his deuce gear.

“No way,” the corporal retorted, “You’re coming with me, even if I have to carry you!”

And he did.



The Dragoon



Image: Pixabay

The Dragoon

Lieutenant Oliver Kirkpatrick of the Royal Dragoons approached a little farmstead near Torhout, a little before sunset.   He was tired and wanted to settle down for a meal and a good night’s sleep.  He assured himself that the Belgian farmer would treat him to both.  After all he was a representative of the British crown, and was carrying important dispatches from General Ross to London.

Kirkpatrick was so sure of himself and the importance of his mission, that he didn’t even approach the farmhouse, but went straight to the barn to stable his horse.  He entered the dark interior, and was surprised to find what he assumed to be the farmer fast asleep in the hay.

The officer stood over the man and kicked him in the boots. “Wake up, and help me with my horse,” he said in poorly pronounced Dutch.

The man woke, and stretched, and then heaved as if he were going to be ill.

“Are you drunk, Man?” Kirkpatrick questioned irritably.

The tall pale peasant blinked again and said, “Walloon.”

“Ah, that’s it, is it?” the officer of Dragoons said in English.  “Are you drunk?” he said in French which was heavily accented with an Irish lilt.

“No, no, not drunk,” the dark eyed man replied in French.

“I need to stable my horse, and to be fed.  Do you understand?” Kirkpatrick asked.

“Yes, yes,” the man replied as it got progressively darker outside.  “Please come with me.”

The tall peasant led the man into farmhouse, and plopped a chair down in front of the table.

“Why a lone Englishman?” the peasant asked.

“I’m Irish actually,” the officer replied, “The Royal Dragoons of Ireland, and I am on my way to Ostend.”

“Ostend?” the man said, cutting thick slices of cold roasted meat and placing it before the Lieutenant.

“Yes, there will be a ship there waiting to take me to England.”

“Sounds important,” the man said with an emphasis calculated to sound impressed.

“Yes, but I shouldn’t say any more about it,” the Dragoon said.

The peasant opened a bottle of wine, and then took a glass and went to stand next to the officer to pour him a portion.  As the Dragoon emptied the glass, Patrick Malone grabbed the man’s skull with both hands and gave a terrific twist.  Malone was amazed at how easily the man’s neck snapped.

Malone pushed the body out of the chair and sat down and poured himself a glass of wine.  He then reached down and pulled the packet of letters from the man’s pouch.  He finished the glass of wine, and poured himself another as he familiarised himself with the pouches contents.

An Irish Dragoon, now imagine that, Malone thought to himself as he stripped the uniform from the man and began to dress himself in it.  A little short, but the boots should cover that up, he thought.

He then carried the officer to the bedchamber and dropped it on to the bed next to the naked corpse of a woman of about forty.  “You two have a lovely evening now,” Malone said wryly. “I think her husband will be back from market tomorrow.  It is a sad thing for a husband to hang for killing his wife and her lover.”

Malone went back to the barn and prepared the Dragoon’s horse for the road.  He then spurred it onto to road to Ostend.

“Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, of the Royal Irish,” he rehearsed as made his way to the waiting ship, and England beyond.