This is a collection of short stories, both published and unpublished.
Asylum. Stirring Magazine, November 2015. http://www.sundresspublications.com/stirring/archives/v17/e11/walkerj.htm
Lightning. Northern Light, Vol. 6. 2014-15. http://www.suiss.ed.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/merged_document1.pdf
Some other stories
When we were children, I would tell my little brother stories. Since I learned early that adults were not to be trusted, I stopped asking all my burning questions and just made up my own answers. They were often much more interesting than the ones I had been given back when I thought I was getting truths.
My baby brother rarely asked questions yet – he was still working on full sentences – so I decided that as the elder one that it was my responsibility to protect him from grown-up lies. So when he showed an interest in something, I would tell him how it worked. Air-condition was an ice-cube factory run by little alien people who lived in the unit; the leaves fell down in autumn because the trees were bored with the colour and wanted to try something new; snowflakes were made of ice cream (they tasted like nothing but water because they were too small to carry flavour) and dogs and cats would talk to you, if they liked you enough. Since my little brother was distressed that the family cats seemed to hate him, I reassured him that because they had both grown up in the wild, they still had to learn to speak human. After that, my parents were often bemused by the sight of my brother holding one of the cats and reciting the alphabet to it.
But the best story – I thought – was about the postal system. I thought about how letters got from one place to another. We lived in the middle of city and I never saw a postman, so letters seemed to magically disappear into the mailbox, and reappear wherever they were supposed to. After some consideration, I decided they flew like flocks of birds once the sun set, and fitted themselves neatly into the post boxes where they belonged. I wanted to test this theory, so I told my little brother that I was going to stay up to see the letters. He wanted to as well.
We snuck out of bed after pretending to go to sleep and took up watch by the window. The next morning, my mother found us, fast asleep and curled around each other on the sill.
Not A Fairy Tale.
The third dwarf in the line-up marched diligently behind his brothers out of the mine. It had been a poor day for precious gems, and the bad mood buzzed like a live thing among the eight of them. The third dwarf was unhappy in his own little way as well, dragging his feet like they were encased in cave rocks.
He hated the mines: the bad air and low ceilings and the way the dust crept into your eyes and mouth and nostrils, and no amount of scrubbing and washing could get it all out. He hated the backbreaking labour as well, but most of all, he hated the stones all his brothers seemed to lust for. They were pretty, in a cold clinical way, but he far preferred animals. If it were up to him, he would raise goats in the mountains, high up where the air was fresh and there was never any question of digging, except perhaps in a garden, or while building a fence. He asked Happy about it once, and it caused his brother’s namesake smile to slide off his face. “Dwarves don’t like to grow gardens,” he said, seriously. “Dwarves like to mine.”
The third dwarf didn’t agree, but did not want to broach the subject again. Instead, he moved his bed out of the main sleeping room, saying that he wanted to light the morning fire from now on without waking the others up. Surprised, they agreed. The third dwarf did light the fires, but after that, he went out behind the house and dug fiercely in the dry little patch of field no one ever used. He planted leftovers from the vegetables they bought at the market on Mondays.
After weeks of trying and failing, however, he decided that maybe his brothers were right. Dwarves were supposed to mine. It did not stop him casting a quick look out the kitchen window later that evening, while they all sat at the table in sullen silence. His brothers were simple dwarves, and their happiness and passion was derived from one source. The third dwarf ignored what little conversation there was, and went to bed early.
The next morning, he lit the kitchen fire as usual and put on the kettle for coffee. As he took down the coffee pot, he glanced out the window. For a moment, he stood, transfixed, and then rushed outside. There, in the midst of his dry earth, a small, but stalwart tomato plant was growing.
The third dwarf went back inside, and finished preparing breakfast. Then he packed up a small bag, and sneaked out the front door, just as the others started stirring. “Seven is better number for dwarves anyway,” he said, “all the books say so.” And he set off for the mountains, a spring in his step.
“So, what’s the first thing you’ll do when you get home, Martha?”
“I’m going to have myself a glass of Glenmorangie,” said Martha from her bunk. Her voice was slightly muffled as the bed was near the ceiling, and I think she had a pillow on her face. She often did that, Martha. She said it helped her breathe, but I think she was just hiding. Not that you could ask I her about it, of course, unless you liked being walloped by an Amazon.
Grace frowned. “I never did like whiskey.”
“You never did like fun, either!”
“What kind of Glenmorangie?” Heather asked, polishing her bayonet. There was a smattering of gunfire in the distance, we all ducked slightly. No thought went into it anymore; it was simply reflex.
“Any kind! So long as it’s from the homeland, I’ll be happy.” Martha hopped down to the floor, graceful despite her size. The English girls had nicknamed her Boudicca on the second day, and at six foot and weighing around 200 pounds, I could see why. We did not use it, though, as it offended her. Boudicca was a bleeding Englishwoman, she said, and had nothing to do with her.
Grace frowned up at Martha, but then her soft face relaxed into a smile. How Grace wound up on the front lines, I’ll never know. A real delicate English rose, albeit somewhat out of season down here in the endless winter nights in the trenches.
Heather ducked out the shelter into the pouring rain. I started lacing my boots. My little Johnny should be old enough to tie his shoelaces now. Edward’s last letter was full of stories of first words and garden adventures. I could barely start it, but carried it, half unread, in my breast pocket.
Heather reappeared, looking grave. “We’re going over the top,” she said. “Sergeant says five minutes.” The shelter became a flurry of activity, we all knew what to do, and we did it, our minds empty.
We stood out in the freezing rain, getting our final orders, one resembling the other in our uniforms, cropped hair and muddy faces, so we blended into a homogenous mass. As the first ones started climbing over, I thought of sickly Edward and growing Johnny. Better me than them.
Coffee with Gina was less tense than I had expected, despite the fact that this was our favourite coffeehouse and I had moved out only three months ago. Gina had finally gotten a grant for her post doc research, she told me, so the project could grind on for another few years. I listened, nodding politely and pleased to no end that she was getting on well. She had lost some weight, which I guess was at least partially due to being able to cook whatever she felt like, not feeling she had to compromise because I was there. As she spoke, she absentmindedly tore a napkin into pieces, and wadded each one into a neat ball, lining them up on the table. I tried to look away, but I couldn’t.
When we broke up, I told her it was because we wanted different things. It wasn’t. It was because of her most disgusting habit. There were other, unredeeming factors, but the habit was what made the decision for me. I speculated often on whether it mean she had some kind of disorder, but the online searches came up empty, leaving me to my own increasingly weird speculations.
She would leave these little packages around the house. Tiny wads of paper, tissue, cardboard, anything else she could get her hands on at the time. In them, she would put toenail clippings, old scabs, even snots. And then she would just leave them there, for anyone to find, in neat little rows on tables. I asked her to stop doing it several times, and she always readily agreed, but never did a thing about it. Towards the end, I felt like they were following me – tiny little balls containing their human refuse products, trailing me around the apartment in neat lines.
It took me a long time to get used to not finding them in my new place, and I was still allergic to any kind of paper lying around.
We paid for our coffees, and she kissed me on the cheek before leaving. I eyed the row of balls on the table, then slowly and deliberately swept them to the floor with my sleeve, careful not to let them touch my skin.