Friday, April 23, 2021

Theme and Variations by Vanessa Horn


Theme and Variations is a collection of sixteen flash fiction stories with music – some of it harmonious, some discordant – running through them.

  • A participant in an internalised music scheme chooses to ignore what he assumes is just a glitch…
  • A story vending machine provides more than just a good read for an apprehensive job applicant…
  • When God decides that the Ten Commandments are outdated, how will Saint Peter manage the re-write…?
  • A silent child finds his own way to communicate…
  • A woman’s music competes with her boyfriend for her affections…

Although fictional, these stories also contain many elements of realism. After all, music will always be with, around or in you.

RRP £6.00 

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ISBN: 9781910542514 
Read an extract:

A Question of Timing

David paused in his morning ablutions and peered into the misted mirror. As anticipated, the Darkness peered back at him; always present, there was no reason to expect it to be otherwise. He sighed.

Then, ensuring every towel was hanging rose-pattern outwards as required, he left the bathroom. Slowly made his way downstairs, his slippered feet flip-flopped on each step. Towards the kitchen. Towards Dorothy.

She didn’t look up as he entered. Instead, she huffed then grunted, “Your breakfast’s burnt.”

David sat down heavily. “It doesn’t matter.” He took a quick bite of the charcoaled toast, trying, without success, not to grimace.

His wife shrugged. “Your fault. How long does it take to have a shower?”

Knowing no answer was required, David crunched the last mouthful with relief and then rose from the table.

Moving through to the small utility room - Toby at his heels - he changed his slippers for outdoor shoes and retrieved his terrier’s lead. David clipped it on securely and turned back to Dorothy. He spoke softly, “Won’t be long,” then left the house.

As he shut the small wooden gate firmly behind him, David felt his shoulders begin to loosen and his heartbeat reduce into a more peaceable rhythm. The Darkness was still present. That never went away.

Looking down at the small dog, he smiled sadly. “No way to live, is it, lad?”

In response, Toby cocked his leg against the nearby lamppost, urinating abundantly.

“Exactly,” murmured David, waiting patiently before walking on.

Down the quiet street and towards the churchyard. The usual routine. It isn’t  an unpleasant morning, not for October.. Sunny but with a hint of a nip. A bit like Dorothy when we  first met, forty-odd years ago. A girl who knew her own mind, did her own thing. Didn’t need a man, either.

David, immediately captivated by Dorothy’s free and outgoing spirit, persuaded her otherwise. Eventually. Now, and certainly not for the first time, he wondered whether he should have left her to do her own thing. Maybe then she wouldn’t have grown so bitter. So vindictive.

I was so taken by her free spirit. So outgoing. So unlike me. Well, they say opposites attract. Still I persuaded her – eventually. But… maybe I should have left her to do her own thing. Perhaps she wouldn’t have become so bitter then. Vindictive even.

But that hadn’t been the case.

I didn’t stand in her way. I encouraged her in everything – her career, her hobbies, her life. It’s not my fault she lost interest in everything. Her animosity isn’t my doing so why do I feel so often that it is?

David and Toby turned into the entrance to the churchyard, the latter sniffing enthusiastically at the half-sunken gravestones lying either side of the path.  David stopped to look at the notice board. There they were – the yellowing coffee morning announcements, circa 2012, and handwritten postcards advertising babysitting, lawn-mowing and the like. Nothing new.

Ready to move on, he suddenly heard a noise from inside the church. Some sort of clang or clank? He waited. Moments later, the sound was repeated and, with sudden recognition, he nodded. “The bells, Toby - someone’s got them working at last.” 

Deciding to investigate, he pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside. Blinking at the dimness, he eventually spotted a small group of men standing in a semi-circle at the far end of the church, holding vertically hanging ropes of varying thickness.

“Come to join us?” A stout man indicated the unmanned rope by his side.

David hesitated. “Well, I – “He glanced down at Toby, unsure about the protocol of dogs in churches.

The man grinned. “Bring him in, he looks obedient enough. I’m Nev, by the way.”

After only a moment of hesitation, David complied, heading down the aisle towards the group. 

After introductions were made by David and the others - Bill, Pete, Steve and Mark - Nev explained that he’d instigated the get-together. “I’ve wanted to start a campanology group for a while now, but had to get the bells checked out first.”

“Nev’s the only one who knows what he’s doing,” added Steve. “The rest of us are novices.”

David felt his interest stirring. “So, do you… would you… be looking for another regular member, do you think? To join your group?” 

“Definitely,” Nev replied. He passed over the spare rope. “Here.”

After instructing Toby to sit, David gingerly took the rope and moved into place in the line of men. Listened carefully as Nev went through the bell-ringing techniques. Apparently, it was not just a case of holding the rope correctly but you needed to move with and catch it at exactly the right time.

David nodded to himself. Timing, that’s what it’s all about. 

“Time for you to have a go now, Dave,” concluded Nev, after several minutes of instruction.  

 As he began to pull on the rope, David experienced an unanticipated and unfamiliar sensation of power. Control. Without warning, barely acknowledged sparks of pent-up frustration flew from his consciousness, down his arms and into the rope.

 Then, as he continued to pull, the Darkness materialised around him, merging and augmenting these feelings. It expanded like uncontrollable shaving foam, travelling with the momentum of the ringing until - finally – it broke free, rising up, up, up to the rafts of the ceiling. Momentarily halted by the wooden beams, it then narrowed to a slit and pierced a small hole in the roof. Slid easily through and dissipated into the sky.

  Now the Darkness had gone,  Dave could spy a speck of blue sky peeping through the hole in the roof. New. Fresh. Unsullied.  

 It’s hope. Just a little, but enough.

 He smiled, feeling the relief spreading through his body, pore by pore, vein by vein. 

With hope, he knew he would find the courage to do what he needed to do. 


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