24 Stories for charity and entertainment. Stories Nine and Ten.

Continuing my blog series covering the 24 stories in the original OMP anthology, let’s take a look at the 9th and 10th stories.

One of the aims of the collection was to present ‘something for everyone,’ and so our tales range from differing genres to different story types, including scripts and non fiction.

Rhian Rawling’s TASTE is one of a couple of non fictions in the collection and for my money it’s the most poignant story, dealing as it does with the tragic loss of Andy, Rhian’s first husband.

The above makes it sound like TASTE is going to be dark and depressive, but actually while sad, it also manages to be witty, endearing, funny and profound in turns. TASTE is about dealing with loss and at it’s heart it’s inspirational and an amazing story of a resilient woman.

Rhian was helped a lot by the WAY Foundation (Widows And Young people) and continues to be associated with them to this day – and we intend to do a future spotlight on this fantastic group in the future.

Everyone copes with grief in very different ways – for Rhian, her relationship with Andy was very much about shared experiences – food was very important to them and without him, she experienced a dulling of the senses. TASTE is but one chapter in a book I’m hopeful will be completed and explores how those senses gradually came back to life, with love and care from friends and family.

‘Anyone that tries to tell you that food is merely a tool for survival is lying. From my gently undulating curves it’s obvious to even the most casual observer that matters gastronomic have been elevated significantly in my list of priorities. Andy shared my passion for good food although his toned physique betrayed fewer signs of indulgence.

When we first met we had both realised in a matter of days that ‘this was it’. We both floated about with unending grins which probably looked more like an advanced case of tetanus to anyone who didn’t know better.

We also embraced hedonism with all the energy we could muster. Weekends would find us squirrelled away deep in the heart of the East Midlands. To us, however, our less than palatial environs were transformed as we threw the mattress on the floor and transformed the bed base into a table top groaning with edible delights.

We had both just left University and begun our first jobs. With the arrival of our earliest wage packets came the possibilities of escaping the years of surviving on basic student fare. Whilst we reclined on our re-located bed we sipped champagne and nibbled on prawns, celery, Stilton and each other.

We fed each other. We revelled in not having to survive on toast and unending vegetable chillies. Throughout our time together we maintained our new found zeal for cooking. Mealtimes were all about discovering new flavour combinations together, sharing easy conversation and usually a fair bit of alcohol as we conjured up another taste sensation.

Cooking for someone can also be a very intimate expression of affection. If you have ever arrived home after a crappy day at work to be greeted with a hug and a home-made casserole you know you are truly loved.

Even when we were living in a tiny Islington flat with only 1 saucepan to our names I would labour for hours in order to “rustle up” a Mousakka for my love. The endless round of washing up said saucepan between each stage melted away with the satisfying silence that descends when your culinary offerings meet with the total approval of your partner.

With Andy gone the joy of cooking had disappeared. In the first terrible days of numbness I couldn’t face eating at all. This wasn’t some foot-stamping cry for attention it just didn’t feel right to be nourishing my body when I could no longer see the point in carrying on.

They say that anyone over 20 can remember where they were when the planes crashed into the twin towers. Anyone over 30 can remember where they were when Princess Diana died and anyone nudging pensionable age can remember when Kennedy died. So why is it when the loss is raw and personal to you it’s amazing how little you retain?

They say that on the point of death the last sense you are aware of is hearing.

“They” have a lot to say for themselves don’t they? When the phone rang I have no recollection of anything beyond the words I didn’t want to hear. I was drowning in clichés. Speech was sucked out of me, my vision blurred and I vaguely remember shaking but beyond that I was numb. Not numb as in a “filling at the dentist” way but numb as in standing behind myself, merely observing a series of unconnected actions.

One by one my senses had shut down and yes, hearing was the last one to go.

I don’t claim to have any answers to how you should deal with losing a partner. I can only give you my truth. Despite what “They” tell you there is no prescribed list of hurdles to get over or steps to take. It isn’t a straightforward journey where you pass from happy to devastated and back again. You don’t dutifully work your way through the 5 stages of bereavement and emerge victorious. There is no right or wrong way to
grieve and every version is unique. What I can offer is an insight into my journey and what I have found helpful. If all else fails remember that for centuries people have been dealing with loss and still haven’t cracked it. If that isn’t licence to find your own way and trust your own instincts I don’t know what is.’

*

Story Ten is one of mine – THE GOLDEN LEGION is two things. It’s a self contained story set in a fantasy land that is half way between the Robert E Howardesque era of Conan the Barbarian and half Roman Empire and secondly it is the large first chapter of a novel.

The original concept of SOLDIER OF THE KRUUL (the first of a planned trilogy) originated circa 2000/2001 and that first chapter had a definitive purpose. Having written mainly sci-fi and comedy up to this point and being a Conan and Lord of the Rings fan, I challenged myself to write the kind of in depth, vividly described fantasy that I enjoyed reading.

One of my skills is world building and this story is full of that – yet, the main character for my intended trilogy doesn’t even show up until the second chapter, but his appearance and motivations rely heavily on the events within the first chapter. Many of the concepts, background and feel of The Westerlands appear here and really, it’s an in depth scene setter.

But also self contained – when I was looking for old stories of mine to put into this collection, the first chapter of Soldier (originally called CLAN JAGER) stood out. It only lacked a name, which I gave it. Enjoy the opening of … THE GOLDEN LEGION and please check out the rest and Rhian’s TASTE in the ONE MILLION PROJECT, available on Amazon.

‘Fierce winds tore through the makeshift camp that grey dark afternoon; tearing, buffeting and lashing out at anything not securely tethered to the ground. Inside the inadequate lean-to’s and hastily assembled canvas men and animals shivered, wet and miserable against the raging of the elements. These men, the finest of the Seventh Legion; trained for war under all conditions could nevertheless do nothing in the face of the storm’s power except wait helplessly for its eventual abatement.

A dark grey miserable afternoon – par for the course in these rocky wastes of Durva. Imagine a land devoid of flora and fauna, bereft of all the bounties of nature. Picture a region almost one hundred miles in square width consisting only of dull sedimentary yellow greyness and lashed frequently by the full furious rage of the heavens.

The lay of the land took on two distinct features once one passed westwards from the mountainous fjords of Norstad. On crossing the western borders of that coolly green land, one came abruptly on the grey ash like plains as they appeared as if by some sorcerous trick of nature. Some say that the whole region of Durva was scoured by a magically induced volcanic eruption back towards the dawn of time.

Whatever the reason, there was a clear delineation along the borders of Norstad and to the south Petaland and Gunna-Tabal, that precluded all thought of invasion from these more fertile lands.

No invasion and no need for conquest, true; but some thirty miles over the border past the rocky ash plains, the Iron Mountains rose grim and foreboding. Within the mountains dwelled the numerous tribes of Durva – small, barbaric, given to petty squabbling and feuds, but also with the disconcerting habit of drifting south and east towards more hospitable lands … unless checked. While it was a fact that few of the tribes actually dwelt far from the enclosed safety of the mountains, it was also undisputed that all of them could be mobile and speedily arrive in large raiding parties at the border within a day. So while no civilized nation had ever seriously thought to annex the Wastes of Durva, frequent armies of pacification were a necessity; hence the presence of the Seventh Legion.

A thousand years past, the three neighbouring nations had been intermittently troubled and either had to provide border patrols or suffer raids, but since that time the legions of Kruul had taken it upon themselves to send armies of pacification every two to three years. After all Norstad was an ally and most of Gunna-Tabal was an occupied part of the Kruul Empire. Petaland could and would have to fend for itself along its northern border.

Presently the thousand men of the seventh legion, sent on just such a mission of pacification were encamped some twenty miles into the ash plains and not ten from the Iron Mountains. Travelling slowly but steadily as a legion tends to do on full mobilisation, they had been only two days in Durva and yet to see a single tribesman.

The Seventh, also known as the Golden Legion (as the shields, helms and armour tended to differ between legions to give each a distinctive identity) was the pride and joy of the Empire – alternately known as The Mighty Seventh. That they were here in Durva on a campaign of pacification showed none of the demerit it might have, had a lesser legion been sent in its place. The sight of the golden Seventh marching through Norstad was meant to send a signal to all who witnessed them in their glory.

On the one hand that message to Norstad was ‘We send our best to fight in your interests,’ but on the other hand it was also a show of strength and prestige.

Like all legions, the Mighty Seventh was divided into ten cohorts of exactly 100 men apiece. In addition to the fighting men and their commanders, a staff of 50 or so cooks, servants and sundry personnel completed the full complement of the Seventh along with several hundred horses (Out of 1000 fighting men, 200 formed an official cavalry but more than that number were trained to take the place of the fallen in battle and could easily convert from infantry to horsemen on short notice), carrier mules, wagons and a small pack of hunting dogs. The dogs were at present baying as they lay together under canvass shivering with the cold.

On the furthest side of the camp from the animals, a larger, sturdier tent had been erected and within this awning the Commander of the legion and his staff stood grouped around a field table engaged in animated conversation.

‘Despite this abominable weather we have made good progress my lords,’ a hulking greybeard was saying.

Opposite him stood 3 younger men aged in their early to mid thirties, the foremost of which stood perched against the edge of the makeshift room, his fists knuckle down upon the table, flaxen hair falling across his tanned brow.

This man was Sol Jager, Commander of the Seventh Legion these past eight winters and oldest son and heir to the second most prominent family in all the Empire of Kruul. To list the military accomplishments and accolades heaped high upon him would take too much time to recount. Sol Jager who had killed his first foe man at the age of fourteen, who had been given his first command as a mere youth of eighteen … the same Sol Jager who had slain the murderous ‘Giant of Petaland,’ in a champion vs. champion pit fight; who had repulsed the corsairs of Kilaman with but one remaining ship against a fleet. He who distinguished himself along the East Akani frontier and had taken a near fatal blow in the stead of Prince Helsing.

Now in his thirtieth year and at the height of his prowess, Sol Jager was here in the Wastes of Durva on a mission that was … totally futile!

So his thoughts ran. If the truth be known, the Commander of the Mighty Seventh would rather have remained home with his beloved wife to await the birth of their first-born. Any legion commanded by a half way competent commander could be here in the place of the Seventh. Sol knew this as he also knew the reason for their presence was purely political … a motion passed by those in the Senate that believed in overt gestures of power and prestige to be displayed in front of ‘allies’ from time to time, needed or not. He was but a simple soldier and duty compelled him at all times especially when the Emperor personally requested he lead this punitive expedition.

General Ourbos coughed slightly and his attention returned to the meeting.

‘As I was saying my lord,’ the older man continued ‘The storm is predicted to cease within a day and we will be able to resume our pace.’

Sol nodded ‘Select and prepare native scouts to set off on the morrow. Let them survey the different approaches so we might judge which is the least arduous.’

The man to his left spoke up ‘Why not forge straight ahead my lord?’

Sol placed a hand on his officer’s shoulder in comradely fashion ‘This is your first campaign in Durva Timon, so I’ll not judge you harshly, but consider this my friend. Once the storm clears we shall be in plain sight for any who might spy us from miles away. To the left and to the right the land is more rugged which both affords us cover and is also useful for any tribe who cares to lay in ambush. By contrast the way ahead is flat and featureless right up to the Grey Ravines by the mountain and any enemy can track our progress all the way from here to there and have ample time to await our entry into the enclosed ravines where we may be beset from either side. Should we enter those ravines they can also fall in behind us and have men waiting in front.’

Timon frowned ‘But surely my lord, our numbers …’

‘… can quite easily be reduced by judicious avalanches and a carefully planned ambush by relatively few men. I advise you to read Advus’ ‘Stratagems and Histories.’ Such a fate befell a legion in the year 439. The tribesmen may be savage but they are cunning and their intimate knowledge of the terrain would tell against us severely.’

‘You make it sound as if we are outfoxed from the start,’ Timon answered unable to keep a hint of scorn from his tones.

‘Not at all Captain, but a wise man scouts and finds out what his enemy is planning before he advances into battle. Armed with knowledge of what lies ahead we shall adjust our stratagems accordingly.’

General Ourbos nodded ‘More of Advus’ sage words my lord? Did not the master strategist fight alongside your ancestor at Merinvale?’

‘Aye, that he did General and saved the life of Starl Jager into the bargain or else I would not be here. So it is only fair we heed his wisdom.’ They all laughed merrily including Timon who deferred to the words of his hero Sol Jager after battling swiftly with his preconceptions that the pride of the Kruul did not need to do anything other than enter into battle to gain their rightful triumph. There was more to war after all than Kruul arrogance and the belief that they would conquer over all.’

If you would like to read the rest of Taste or The Golden Legion, simply follow the following US and UK links (or search your local Amazon) for ONE MILLION PROJECT. All proceeds to CANCER RESEARCH UK and the homeless charity EMMAUS.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016WLQTXW

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016WLQTXW

Thank you,

Jason.

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About the Midnight Mission

On any given night, one in 217 people in Los Angeles will be homeless. Whether they’ll be sleeping on the streets, on a park bench or underneath some bridge, the situation – even if the background of each member of the homeless community is different – is the same. They are in need of shelter, and if not a refuge, care.

Men, women and children of all ages regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion are in need of food, medical care, and in the case of babies – nappies. A program is also necessary for some of these people to get back on their feet; to resume some normality or purpose to their lives.

To help the poor find self-worth, The Midnight Mission steps in. It is a charitable and voluntary organisation that makes it it’s business to reach out to the homeless community, providing food, care and shelter. It has been operating for over 100 years from 1914. Back then, the homeless population consisted of a small group of men in search of a hot nutritional meal and a place to hit the sack.

Times have changed out of all proportion, and dramatically, so much so, that this diverse community has reached a crisis point.

The Mission notably runs a Courtyard Outreach Program, a one-of-a-kind rescue operation enacted by its staff, who help the most chronically homeless individuals on Skid Row take back their lives.

The Courtyard is monitored 24/7 to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Mission’s guests. The Courtyard helps to break the cycle of homelessness as it’s staff identifies the community’s most vulnerable people and creates a bridge for them to access its vital services which help each homeless individual to survive and find meaning or purpose in their lives.

Each day thousands of people walk through the Mission’s doors in need of basic human necessities which the rest of us take for granted. The organisation distributes Hygiene kits such as soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Families that need groceries may also receive a box of tinned and other non-perishable food items. Nappies are also available for parents who are either homeless or on low incomes and have young children.

Bathrooms on Skid Row (a luxury for the homeless community) are scarce. The Midnight Mission is one of only three facilities that allow 24-hour access to restrooms and showers. Emergency clothing is also readily available, which gives people a renewed sense of self-worth and belonging within their community, along with connections to mental and physical health care services and housing resources.

I thought I’d highlight this problem in one of the US’s major cities since I’ve chatted to a person online who has lived and worked in LA and has several times intimated how serious the homeless problem is there.

The Midnight Mission has faced a challenging year during 2016. Given the gloomy political outlook, it looks as though 2017 will be no less challenging for the charity to meet it’s needs and objectives.

By David Butterworth

OMP Admin Note: David Butterworth is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues.

David’s flash fiction will be available in Volume 4 of BITE SIZE STORIES (coming December 2016)

For the start of this series and other guest writers, follow these links:

https://www.amazon.com/Bite-Size-Stories-Jason-Greenfield-ebook/dp/B01HALHVBW/ref=la_B00CBFLI1W_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475095358&sr=1-4

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bite-Size-Stories-Jason-Greenfield-ebook/dp/B01HALHVBW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1475095546&sr=1-1