HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

Gooseyfoot

I am a Primary School Teacher and have written early reading books and stories for reluctant readers (Collins Education and Brilliant Publications)
My short stories for adults have been published in My Weekly Magazine - and I previously won a children's section of the Cheshire Prize for Literature. Have two children's novels that are still looking for a publisher - but that's the way it goes when you love writing as much as I do!


GOOSEYFOOT


When winter came, it was a haggard tramp, limping through the bone-cold damp and darkness. Bitter frost glittered on the autumn-rutted tracks and bare branches twisted like skeleton fingers, clawing at the endless grey clouds. Down in the valley, folks huddled close into their lives, remote and shuttered, thin as the short days under a low, iron-clad sky.

The deep snows were night-stalkers, silent and stealthy. Not the soft-dancing, flattering stuff of Christmas card scenes and colour-washed landscapes. This snow was ice-teeth sharp; it prowled on the jaws of a biting wind, howling and hunting the bleak places. Uncompromising, harsh and dirty-white, it blanked out the far hills and made the hard times harder.

Years after, there was still talk of how bad it was up Gooseyfoot way. Far-flung small holdings lost against the hugeness of the fells, dim, yellow lights flickering nightly in the vast darkness. Up there, winter’s bite was at its most cruel. From there, came messages of weary resignation, some thick with grim resilience - voices strong with the determination born in hard times past.
Valley folk gathered in the village hall and worried about the isolated Halker family, in their place high up in the far fells. They feared, too, for old man Skellern, widowed and alone now at Gooseyfoot, the farm of his great, great grandfathers.

‘I’ll be reet.’ He was economical with the facts, his voice barely audible against the howling wind – yet, before the signal failed, his last words seeded hope for the much anticipated thaw…

At night, tiny pin pricks of light holed the vast darkness, blinking like eyes confirming life and the promise of something that cannot be dimmed. And then, just when a helicopter drop of food parcels and animal feed seemed inevitable, Gillan and his two sons took the wide-tyred tractor with its dipping snow plough and managed to carve a corridor through the towering walls of snow.

The Halkers received supplies with hearty handshakes, but urged the Gillans on, up the fell to Gooseyfoot…

Old man Skellern was working at the open door of a tumbling barn, his face furrowed as summer fields, his breath a stink of whiskey. Winter-hard and calloused, his hands whittled at a stout stick for when the spring fields would bring forth lambs, his pale eyes watching where the rusting tractor idled and the animals breathed steaming clouds into the straw.
‘Ya made it, then.’
He laid down his work and led the way along a shovelled track to a surprisingly warm kitchen. Fresh tea was brewed and laced with whiskey for their efforts.

‘Tis over, then,’ he said and reached with red-raw fingers, to the windowsill, where a single snowdrop hung its head in an old medicine bottle.
‘Tis over – and something new’s beginning.’
They nodded.
Spring was on its way.
Up at Gooseyfoot.