The games they play at school

Written for a FutureLearn fiction writing course. The task is to write a 200-350 word story that can be expanded at a later date. As always, feedback would be appreciated.

Ellie pulled the book out of her bag surreptitiously and walked towards the door. The hand on her shoulder told her that she had been spotted.

‘Put it back dear. We have talked about this and you promised me that you would try to be kind to the other children. They want to be your friends, but that won’t happen if you don’t play nicely.’

Without a word Ellie did as she had been asked before going outside. Without her armour she felt vulnerable; she knew that she was being watched from all sides. Tommy came bounding over and smirked.

‘Okay then greasy locks, let’s play tag. You’re it!’

Punching her hard in the arm he ran off laughing. Ellie could see that Mrs Johnson had observed the little exchange. She had no choice if she were to prevent them from phoning her mother again; she gave chase.

The playground wrapped itself around the jumble of classrooms that had been added over the years as the village grew. It was impossible to see it all, and the MDSA’s showed little interest in the constant flow of minor spats brought to their attention by the tell tales. Tommy’s gang were waiting as she rounded the corner. Grabbing her arm they twisted it behind her back and pushed her roughly against the wall, before snatching a fistful of hair and pulling back her head.

‘Drink this’ Tommy ordered, holding an uncapped bottle to her lips. Ellie smelt the urine as he poured it over her face and gagged, thereby allowing some of the liquid to enter her mouth. Satisfied they pushed her to the ground before sauntering away, smiling merrily at the approaching MDSA.

Note: an MDSA is a midday supervisory assistant, an adult employed to ensure the safety of schoolchildren during recess. 

Stayin’ Alive

Carla disliked parties and themed ones were the worst of all. For years she had made excuses when invited along to such events. If the hosts took offence then that was regrettable, but her true friends accepted her quirks even if they did not understand. She was past caring what the wider world thought. Words still had the power to hurt, but she had moved on from the young woman she had once been, learning the hard way that there are those who would never be pleased or impressed unless she became a lesser version of them. Such a price was not worth paying.

The invitation sat on her crowded bookshelf mocking her resolve and hard won sense of self. Ashley knew how Carla felt but had declared that it was her birthday and she would do what she wanted on her special day. She had made sure that Carla knew how much effort the rest of the family were making. Mark was flying over from Australia with his new partner; their attendance would be part of a carefully planned tour of Europe. Craig could only get a few days off work but was flying in from Canada just for the weekend.

Carla had started to remind Ashley how much she struggled with these events only to be cut off in mid sentence. ‘You have to be there’ she had exclaimed, ‘You are my twin sister and you live less than three miles from the venue. For one night, just one night, try to act as if you are normal!’

So now Carla was putting together a hideous outfit that would make her look like a cast member from Saturday Night Fever. She had never liked that film. Discos had been her first experience of girls in a cattle market, expected to cosy up to drunk, sweaty Lotharios who thought that they were God’s gift. Ashley, of course, had loved them. Their mother had insisted that Carla go along to keep her sister company, not that Ashley was ever short of company.

Her sister fitted their mother’s idea of how a girl should be. Interested in fashion, boys and parties they gossiped and giggled together, flicking through magazines or sizing up the young actors from television shows. Carla was berated for not making an effort with her looks, for spending too much time reading in her bedroom. ‘How are you ever going to find a husband?’ her mother fretted. To her, this was the pinnacle of achievement for a good girl.

Mother would be at the party of course; costumed, coiffed and in her element. If Ashley was a challenge to cope with then she was an amateur compared to their mother who, even after all these years, could never give up trying to makeover Carla in her own image. The party had probably been a joint venture, a way to force Carla to act the way the family thought she should. The closer it came the more Carla was struggling to cope.

It would be so easy to agree to everything and then not turn up, claim illness, not answer the door if they tried to fetch her on the day. It would also be a pretence, and Carla would no longer live her life that way. She would attend as was expected and then leave early. She hated herself for not being stronger, for allowing herself to be sucked in yet again.

On the night, feeling nauseous and foolish, Carla filled her hair with spray and glitter, donned a floaty red dress, and waited for the hired limousine that would take the family to the venue. It didn’t arrive. An hour later Craig phoned from the hospital to inform her that their mother was on life support. They had been drinking all afternoon before Ashley and their mother had argued over the suitability of costumes, mutton dressed as lamb. Mother had attempted a dramatic departure, tripping over her feet as she left and falling down the steep front steps. She had banged her head at the bottom, hard. The doctors told them that she was unlikely to regain conciousness.

It was not the family reunion that Carla had expected and dreaded. For the first time in her life she was in charge, the only one amongst them who felt calm. As she held her mother’s hand and gave the doctors permission to turn the machines off, she silently wished herself a Happy Birthday.  

What the circus left behind

Written for this week’s Tipsy Lit Prompted: What’s Within the Circus Tent?

He was standing with his back to her, arguing with the woman in the glittery dress. Their raised voices frightened Ellie. The words they used stabbed and crushed, shutting down her ability to understand. It had taken all of her courage to get this far. Now, despite the daydreams and eager anticipation, she wanted nothing more than to escape.

The woman noticed her and he turned around to see what had caused the distraction. Swiftly he walked over, the woman throwing one last fierce interjection at his back before marching out of the tent, glowering at Ellie as she passed. Ellie realised that she was shaking and was suddenly afraid that she was going to be sick. Last time she had been sick Davy had pushed her face into the mess and then hit her hard, again and again.

‘Where’s your mam?’ he demanded. Ellie looked up into his familiar, bright blue eyes. He had looked elegant yet strong before, smiling as he acknowledged the applause of the crowd. Now he smelt sour and looked angry, make up smeared across his weathered face. Ellie had never seen a man wear make up before. Under the bright lights of the show she had not noticed it.

‘What does she want?’ he asked, his voice a little gentler. Ellie swallowed and tried to pass on the message that had been drilled into her. All that came out was a squeak before she burst into tears. Mortified she tried to turn back the way she had come. She wanted to run away but where could she go?

Grabbing at her arm he pulled her into the ring and sat her down on one of the colourful blocks that separated the audience and the magical show. ‘Where is she? Tell her I have no money to give. I knew this place would be trouble but the takings are good. Barry won’t even consider missing this stop on the circuit.’

Ellie tried to calm down, the words made no sense but gave her time to fight back the tears and try again. ‘Mummy told me to tell you that it’s your turn now’, she managed to say. ‘I’m on my own because she’s gone away with Davy. They’re having a baby. Davy don’t want me. Mummy said to tell you she’s gone away.’

The man stared at her, his look terrifying. ‘I’ve nowhere else to go’, she cried pitifully before bursting into tears again, hugging herself as she rocked back and forth on the cold wooden block.

She had been told so many stories about the circus. She had been taken her to the shows and looked out for this man. ‘That’s your daddy’ they had said.

Each time he came to town they would meet briefly. He had lied, telling her she was pretty; given her sweets and ruffled her hair. Last time he had asked if she wanted to run away with him, to learn how to dance and twirl, live a life of adventure travelling from place to place. It sounded so much better than the cramped flat where Mummy and Davy got drunk and forgot to make dinner.

They had left that morning to catch a bus to far away. Ellie had been given the money to go to the circus after school, carefully zipped into her dirty skirt pocket. Mummy had kissed her and cried when she said goodbye. Mummy never kissed her.

The man was on his phone. Ellie sat still, cold and alone, needing the toilet but afraid to ask. When the police arrived she wondered what she had done wrong. She had tried so hard to do exactly as instructed today, but Davy had always told her she was a pest and would come to a bad end.

Crime and punishment

Mrs Bailey knelt down in front of Nathan and wiped the tears from his mud splattered cheeks. He was calmer now, his breathing returning to normal. She would make some effort to clean him up before his mother arrived to take him home, but there was nothing she could do to disguise the torn clothes, stained in places with the boy’s blood. Bruises would develop in time, but at least no bones had been broken. She could be grateful for that small mercy.

Sammy was perched on a table across the classroom swinging his legs, his expression impenetrable. He had watched Nathan sullenly as the boy explained, between broken sobs, how he had been pushed over the wall, falling head over heels down the deep gully on the other side. Nathan’s mother had been into the school at least half a dozen times this term already to warn the teachers about Sammy’s violent and threatening behaviour towards her son.

In the event it was Sammy’s mother who arrived first. Large and purposeful, she marched into the classroom, nodded curtly to Mrs Bailey, and thumped her son on the side of the head. The force of the blow would have knocked him clean off the table if he hadn’t seen it coming and moved adroitly to the side. Before the action could be repeated he took off out the door of the classroom, his mother lumbering after him, cursing and swearing loudly.

Nathan’s mother was her usual poised and elegant self, immaculately dressed and indignant that the school had, once again, failed in it’s duty of care. Despite Mrs Bailey’s best efforts Nathan was still looking grubby. His mother’s distaste was palpable when the child put his arms around her for a comforting hug, tears once again rolling down his cheeks, his small body wracked by sobs.

In her office the headteacher repeated all the usual platitudes and apologies; a full investigation was promised, punishment would be swift. It was not enough. This situation had gone on for too long already, was too extreme. It was only good luck that had prevented Nathan from being seriously injured, perhaps even killed. He could not be expected to have to face such blatant and persistent aggression.


Sammy eyed Nathan warily as he swaggered towards him, but stood his ground.

‘Told you I’d pay you back’

‘You think I care?’

‘Mum bought me a street scooter. I can do tricks on it at the skate park’

Sammy shrugged and turned to walk away but Nathan hadn’t finished with him yet.

‘I bet your mum thrashed you. Does she hate you as much as the rest of us?’

Sammy turned back slowly and took a step towards his suddenly frightened nemesis.

‘I’d be careful down that skate park. Throwing yourself off a wall ain’t gonna damage you near as much as the accidents that happen down there all the time.’

‘You can’t threaten me! I’ll tell my mum!’

Sammy laughed bitterly.

‘You think those lads gonna take a blind bit of notice of that stuck up cow? They’ll just find out where you live. Be grateful I’m not the pathetic little snitch you are. I might change my mind though. You watch yourself in the dark, lad. You watch yourself.’